Updated: May 4, 2020
Ever met a lanternfish? They are bioluminescent and average six inches long. They are the most populous fish species in the open ocean. Their aggregate weight is estimated to be 5 billion metric tons, which outweighs the entire planet’s annual fisheries catch. In perspective, that is roughly equivalent to the weight of 17 million 747s.
Lanternfish are known for their daily migrations. During daylight hours, most species remain within the gloomy bathypelagic zone (between 1000-5000 feet deep), but towards sundown the fish begin to rise into the epipelagic zone (30-300 feet deep). After a night spent feeding in the surface layers of the water column, the lanternfish begin to descend back into the lightless depths and are gone by daybreak. They do this 365 days a year. It is the largest (by numbers and mass) animal migration on earth. Scientists call this feeding by dark and retreating from light “diel vertical migration,” diel referring to events that happen on a 24-hour cycle.
Interesting . . . but why are lanternfish important? Answer: as a major source of food for many marine animals, they are a vital link in the food chain of many ecosystems, being heavily preyed upon by whales, dolphins, salmon, tuna, sharks, grenadiers, penguins, and large squid. If lanternfish were to disappear, it could easily lead to the same fate for these other creatures. And the domino effect would continue.
Aldo Leopold, the father of modern ecological thinking, said: “To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.” Human beings have been tinkering with planet earth – intentionally or unintentionally – since day one. We are presently experiencing the negative, even threatening, consequences of such. We’ve killed to rarity or extinction the passenger pigeon, Pyrenean Ibex, bison, and many, many more. EVERY species has a place is the ecological scheme of things and needs to be protected.
The life-sustaining habitat for many species is being gobbled up in our quest for oil and gold. Our planet (and its human inhabitants) can indeed live without those commodities. It cannot live without lanternfish.