National Geographic : 1953 Nov
618 Author and Wife Photograph Deep-sea Specimens in Messina's Marine Institute Tanks of sea water kept many of Dr. Zahl's subjects alive for hours while he made his photographs. The hinged box concentrates light from high-speed lamps while a telephoto lens focuses into the tank. teeth of Chauliodus (page 583), Gonostona, and Stomias (page 616), the mysterious light organs of the myctophids, the weirdly colored eyes of Chlorophthalmus (page 601), all inspired wonder at the specialization found in the sea. Trachypterus, too, from the ocean's middepths, fell into that category but, alas, not on my film. The specimens of Trachyptcrus I had seen earlier were small, not more than two inches long, and were dead or, at best, gasping their last. This one was a 15-incher, very much alive and sensationally photogenic. Like a Steam-rollered Eel In my aquarium the silvery creature looked like a blunt-faced eel that had lost an argu ment with a steam roller. Running along its knife-edge back was a delicate membrane, actually the dorsal fin, that constantly and gracefully undulated. When the fish was disturbed or in motion this poem of a mem brane rippled with a grace beyond the power of words to describe. One of the so-called ribbonfishes, my minia ture sea serpent had a droll, down-the-nose expression; its pectoral fins were long and tipped with rose, and its tuft of a tail gave it a jaunty appearance. I readied camera and lights, confidently expecting storm-damaged power lines to be repaired in time; without electricity I could make no pictures. For once, luck was not with me; for six hours I watched my specimen weaken in the tank. By the time life returned to the wires, death had come to my ribbon fish. Never again did we find one of such size and beauty. Late one afternoon I went out to the lab oratory beach for a stroll. A north wind had completed what a south wind had started. Literally thousands of dead Argyro pelecus lay at the surf line, together with hundreds of pink comb jellies. They alone were left; the other more edible species had already been devoured by the birds. I had long since completed my work with Argyropelccus, and comb jellies are common the world over. So I brought back no speci mens to the laboratory. But I could not help reflecting on how profligate is Nature with some of her most remarkable creations.