The Swedish underwater photographer introduces us to the unexplored territories of our oceans' pelagic zones and their extraordinary denizens
An unidentified juvenile eel curls up like a cobra to confuse predators and avoid looking like a protein-rich fish. Its transparent body makes the species very difficult to hunt. Location: Balayan Bay, Luzon, Philippines
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.
Monday, 02 January, 2023
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Magnus Lundgren has been a professional photographer and writer since 1992 and is widely regarded as one of the world’s leading underwater photographers. His photography and storytelling focuses on travel, adventure and marine life conservation. Magnus is a member of the “Sony Imaging Ambassador” group and one out of only six members in the exclusive “Sony Wildlife Explorer Team”. He posts as @magnuslundgrenphotography on Instagram.