National Geographic : 1971 Jul
waited for my eyes to adapt, while the squid accustomed them selves to their new surroundings. Feeling like a William Beebe, half a mile down in a bathy sphere and gazing through a porthole into the blackness of an abyss, I became aware of a torpedo shape easing through the water. It gleamed with scores of tiny blue-white lights. I tapped the glass and a flash of almost blinding intensity surged from the tips of the creature's two main arms. These flashes were immeasurably brighter than the steady lights on the squid's body (below). Like two ignited match heads, they glowed for an instant, then faded away. Many Mysteries Remain to Be Solved Other squid in the tank became more active, revealing the outlines of their jewel-studded bodies and occasionally flash ing their two stronger lights. Aptly, the Japanese biologist Shozaburo Watase, whose name the creatures bear, described their light as "stars in heaven. ... a sunbeam shot through a tiny hole in a window curtain." But the stars were short-lived; in less than 15 minutes their intensity waned. Although many attempts have been made, rarely has one of these migrants from the deep been kept alive in a surface aquarium for more than a few hours. This is only one of the many mysteries surrounding these and all the other organisms that light nature's nights with their cold fire. As in so many other endeavors, the more we learn, the more there is to learn. Some day, when the intricacies of bioluminescence are fully understood, it is conceivable that cold light will brighten our homes and cities, provide a safe source of illumination in tun nels and mines, and serve with peerless efficiency in spacecraft piercing the black unknown of outer space. Pending that future day, we must admit that nature is still far ahead of us. El Nearly capsizing their boat as they crowd the rail, amateur fishermen dip squid from Japan's Toyama Bay. Nets laden with the bright cephalopods weave lacy trails of blue. The harvesters will eat their catch dried, fried, or broiled. For scientists, the abundant light organs of Watasenia (below) and other squid species provide exciting food for study. Their complex lanterns sometimes come equipped not only with lenses and reflectors but also with membranes that switch them on and off; some can even change color.