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Cameraman and marine biologist Rick Rosenthal captures for the first time on camera Earth's biggest migration — the nightly movement of billions of animals from the ocean's depths to its surface and back.
Ocean Magic at Night reveals for us the habitat of the dark open ocean. It is a world without solid objects, like deep space, whose bizarre inhabitants live out their lives suspended in darkness between the surface and the abyss.
Each evening they travel up towards the surface to feed, and at dawn back down again to the safety of deep, dark water.
Locating this migration in the vast emptiness of the open ocean, and at night, is not easy. Capturing it on camera has never been done before. Rick Rosenthal has made it his mission.
Most of the open ocean, thousands of meters deep and far from land, is a vast blue emptiness. At night, beyond the boat lights there is only blackness. Rick’s best chance for spotting the night’s migration is to locate those signs of life by day that are the most likely to lead him to where the migration would be happening later at night.
So when he and his captain spot a large pod of dolphins moving fast, Rick tracks them. They are moving towards a single floating log, the only object between ocean and sky as far as the eye can see. When he slides underwater beneath the log, Rick finds what the dolphins were after – an entire ecosystem of marine life, and food for the dolphins. Other predators find fertile hunting grounds here too. A school of sailfish, sails impressively unfurled, works together to herd tiny baitfish into tight balls, taking turns piercing through the balls to feed.
There is such an abundance of predators and prey here that Rick believes they, like him, could also be waiting for the nightly migration.
He decides to stay in the area until nightfall.
His first evening dive is a failure. Though Rick discovers a world of beautiful, mostly jelly-like animals, he fails to locate any obvious vertical migration. Yet a thick layer of animals is clearly visible on the screen of the captain’s depth sounder. But it is not moving upwards. Rick gets out of water with many questions.
To find some answers, he seeks guidance from the deep-sea exploration team at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute. With their remotely operated submersible, the Institute’s research team reveals a realm of otherworldly animals – like the barrel-eye fish, with a transparent head and green, tubular eyes, or the cockatoo squid, sporting pursed, lip-stick red lips. Many of the deep-sea animals Rick observes were new to science until the Institute first recorded them a few years ago.
These beautifully bizarre, luminescent animals were always below Rick as he was diving. But why hadn’t they moved closer to the surface?
From the Monterey Bay Research Institute team, Rick learns that the brightness of a full moon slows the upward movement of the vertical migration, the animals he was looking for had in fact moved upwards, but still remained well below Rick’s diving depths.
How do fish use polarized light to disappear? CBC's Quirks and Quarks explains.
A couple of weeks later, Rick repeats his dives on a moonless night, and this time, everything has changed. Swarms of tiny plankton, in the billions, engulf him in a living snowstorm. This is what Rick was waiting for! Together, these animals form a living layer so dense that military submarines have hidden beneath it undetected, and sonar readings have mistaken it for the ocean floor.
The masses of plankton attract millions of larger animals, all the way up the food web to giant mantas, dolphins and sharks. Where before there was a big blue emptiness, now the ocean around Rick pulses with life.
But as the first light of dawn pierces the ocean, the animals gradually slip back down into the deep, leaving Rick alone once more, in the deep, big blue.
A Wild Logic Film by Rick Rosenthal
Director of Photography
SANTA BARBARA SOUND DESIGN
ANDY DEVINE – for Films @ 59
MONTEREY BAY AQUARIUM RESEARCH INSTITUTE
Dr. BRUCE ROBISON
HOBIE CAT COMPANY
FILMS @ 59
TROPIC STAR LODGE
Capt. DAGOBERTO ARAUGO
Crew of SOLMAR V
SUSAN von THUN
Crew of R/V RACHEL CARSON
HOME PLANET POST
For ARTE France
Unité Découverte et Connaissance
Produced by WILD LOGIC in association with ARTE France,
NDR Norddeutscher Rundfunk, DocLights, WDR Westdeutscher Rundfunk,
for the CBC
director of production
director of finance
executive in charge of production
The Nature of Things
with David Suzuki
Canadian Broadcasting Corporation
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