Dark Portfolio Finalists | Nature Infocus
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Every night, an extraordinary drama unfolds within the world's oceans that very few people have witnessed. The 'great vertical journey'—the world's largest migration—whereby billions of organisms respond to the coming of darkness and dare to travel up to the surface of the ocean to feed. The migration is so extensive that military forces could hide an entire submarine among these tiny animals.

This vertical migration influences our world more than many of us realise. The large biomass and daily cycles of these migrations transport huge amounts of carbon dioxide quickly and efficiently into the ocean depths. New research also claims that the vertical pumping effect created when billions of jellyfish and other animals travel up and down influences the ocean's water movements as much as tides and winds do.

Two main reasons for animals to traverse the open ocean, the pelagic zone, is to eat or to avoid being eaten. Through my blackwater diving (scuba diving in the open ocean at night) adventures, I have discovered many fascinating strategies, all of which appear to involve avoiding danger or satisfying hunger. Being transparent is an effective way to make yourself invisible and is often used by octopuses, jellyfish, comb jellies, salps and smaller fish. Some species create bioluminescence to attract, signal and make themselves invisible in the light (by shining away their silhouette).

Another survival trick is imitation or mimicry, whereby a species can garner extra protection by looking like a different being. Transparent juvenile fish utilise their long fins that look or move like the tentacles of a stinging jellyfish for this very purpose. Another group, the surfers, travel on other host animals and use them as a vehicle and a moving form of protection. These range from octopuses and shellfish that ride on jellyfish to parasites that attach themselves to certain fish species.

Blackwater diving is like an outer space journey where one gets to encounter strange beings that appear from the dark. Even today, our oceans' pelagic zones remain unexplored, where many animals and their behaviour are entirely unknown to science. As I experience them close-hand, it becomes clearer how their appearance and behaviour are linked to their survival. I always feel humbled after I come up from these dives, the realisation that for the last 1.5 hours, I have not actively thought about anything else except for what was there right in front of me. Just to be lost in the moment while blackwater diving, for me, and I know for many others, is part of the divine ocean experience.

Flying Fish Cypselurus sp.
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Flying Fish (Cypselurus sp.), in Longdong, Taiwan | The fastest fish in the ocean, such as the marlin, swordfish, tuna and dorado, have Flying Fish on their menu. These pacy predators have essentially driven the evolution of the Flying Fish and equipped them with their remarkable ability to fly. This 2cm long fish, when trying to escape predators, uses its wing-like fins to fly long distances just above the ocean surface.
African Pompanos
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Two African Pompanos swimming together in a dreamy mirror-like dance, in the Philippines.
female Blanket Octopus
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Blanket Octopus, in Balayan Bay, Luzon, Philippines | A female Blanket Octopus flashes the vivid, flamenco-styled webbing between her arms. It is probably to spook or confuse predators and prey. The blanket octopus species spends its entire life in the open ocean and never takes to the ocean floor.
Brown Paper Nautilus Argonauta hians surfing on a jellyfish
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Brown Paper Nautilus (Argonauta hians) surfing on a jellyfish in Balayan Bay, Luzon, Philippines | Surfing is a common strategy out in the open ocean. The Brown Paper Nautilus is a surfing specialist and hitches a ride on everything from swimming jellyfish to drifting plastic waste. There is a significant size difference between the sexes: females grow up to 12 times longer and 600 times heavier than males. The small male only mates once, whereas the female can have offspring many times during her life.
Flying Sea Snail Clio sp
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Flying Sea Snail (Clio sp.) in Green Island, Taiwan | A white angel lost in space. That was my first impression when I found this free-swimming marine snail (1.5cm). A mollusc fully adapted to life in the open ocean—the snail is an excellent swimmer and is protected by its armour-like shell.
adult Thorny Seahorse
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An adult Thorny Seahorse drifting on a piece of plastic in Balayan Bay, Anilao, Philippines | For me, grown-up seahorses are very much linked to life on the ocean floor. Seeing one drifting in the open ocean genuinely caught me by surprise. The Thorny Seahorse is classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Common Sea Star larva
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A Common Sea Star larva in Skagerrak, off the Swedish West Coast | Like a gelatinous spacecraft, the starfish swims the dark depths of the Atlantic ocean. Did you notice the tiny amphipod riding on the seastar?
juvenile Scalloped Ribbonfish Zu cristatus
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A juvenile Scalloped Ribbonfish (Zu cristatus), in Balayan Bay, Anilao, Philippines | Some ribbonfish species are called 'earthquake fish' because they are popularly known to appear following earthquake events. This individual was spotted a few days after I experienced a 4.6 magnitude earthquake while diving at night. It felt like a long explosion (5-6 seconds), which was followed by many small ones.
winged argonaut riding atop a colony of tunicates
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A winged argonaut riding atop a colony of tunicates in Balayan Bay, Luzon, Philippines | A truly spectacular sighting! It is only the female argonauts which have shells that can grow up to 12 centimetres.