Chain Catshark Fluorescence Research

Charles Mazel, PhD | N I G H T S E A

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Chain catsharks, Scyliorhinus rotifer, like the ones at the Seacoast Science Center, have a distinctive beige/brown color pattern. But they also have a secret property – when you shine a blue light on them they glow bright green! This is beautiful and mysterious, but does it matter to the sharks? A recent scientific publication claims that it does, that the fluorescence is important in maintaining the contrast in the pattern under the lighting conditions in the underwater environment.

Dr. Charles Mazel did not find the data in the publication convincing and wanted to collect his own measurements that might argue for or against a visual function of the fluorescence. Dr. Mazel has done extensive research on fluorescence in the sea, including measuring and modeling the contribution of fluorescence to visual appearance in corals and mantis shrimp. He has been an evening speaker at the Center on two occasions, most recently last October when he discussed fluorescence in the sea and ideas about its possible function in various organisms in the sea.

Knowing that the Center maintains live specimens of one of the same species of shark that was discussed in the paper, he arranged to spend the day on Wednesday, July 6, 2016 making measurements of optical properties and photographs under different lighting conditions. While he was here he shared his work with campers and visitors, showing them the fluorescence and explaining his research goals. The kids (and counselors!) asked some great questions! It will take some time to analyze the data and write it up, so stay tuned for more information!

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Charles Mazel, PhD, is the Founder and President of NIGHTSEA and a Principal Research Scientist at Physical Sciences, Inc. He pioneered the modern era of fluorescence night diving and has done extensive research both underwater and in the laboratory observing, photographing, and measuring the fluorescence of corals and other marine organisms to determine how this hidden glow might contribute to their appearance. His company NIGHTSEA designs and manufactures equipment to see and photograph fluorescence in the sea, on land, in the laboratory, and under the microscope, used by divers and scientists around the world.

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