Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 44.djvu/479

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465
PHYSICAL CONDITIONS OF THE DEEP SEA.

that there was no reaction after ten minutes' exposure at a depth of four hundred metres on a sunny day in March. But although it is very highly probable that not a glimmer of sunlight ever penetrates to the depths of the ocean, there is in some places, undoubtedly, a very considerable illumination due to the phosphorescence of the inhabitants of the deep waters.

All the Alcyonarians are, according to Moseley, brilliantly phosphorescent when brought to the surface. Many deep-sea fish possess phosphorescent organs, and it is quite possible that many of the deep-sea protozoa, tunicates, jellyfish, and crustacea are in their native haunts capable of giving out a very considerable amount of phosphorescent light. If we may be allowed to compare the light of abysmal animals with that of surface forms, we can readily imagine that some regions of the sea may be as brightly illuminated as a European street is at night—an illumination with many very bright centers and many dark shadows, but quite sufficient for a vertebrate eye to distinguish readily and at a considerable distance both form and color.

To give an example of the extent to which the illumination due to phosphorescent organisms may reach, I may quote a passage from the writings of the late Sir Wyville Thomson: "After leaving the Cape Verd Islands the sea was a j)erfect blaze of phosphorescence. There was no moon, and although the night was perfectly clear and the stars shone brightly, the luster of the heavens was fairly eclipsed by that of the sea. It was easy to read the smallest print, sitting at the after-port in my cabin, and the bows shed on either side rapidly widening wedges of radiance so vivid as to throw the sails and rigging into distinct lights and shadows."

A very similar sight may frequently be seen in the Banda seas, where on calm nights the whole surface of the ocean seems to be a sheet of milky fire. The light is not only to be seen where the crests of waves are breaking, or the surface disturbed by the bows of the boat, but the phosphorescence extends as far as the eye can reach in all directions. It is impossible, of course, to say with any degree of certainty whether phosphorescence such as this exists at the bottom of the deep sea, but it is quite probable that it does in some places, and hence the well-developed eyes and brilliant colors of some of the deep-sea animals. On the other hand, the entire absence or rudimentary condition of the eyes of a very considerable proportion of deep-sea animals seems to prove that the phosphorescent illumination is not universally distributed, and that there must be some regions in which the darkness is so absolute that it can only be compared with the darkness of the great caves.

It may be stated then with some confidence that in the abysmal