August 6, 2014
Aquarium volunteer Caroline Edmonds, age thirteen, recently conducted a study of the Aquarium’s flashlight fish (Anomalops katoptron) to learn more about how often they cover and uncover the bioluminescent patches under their eyes that give them their name. She defended her project at the Orange County Science and Engineering Fair in April and, as one of the top zoology projects at the fair, she qualified for the California State Science Fair held later that month. She was also selected for the Broadcom MASTERS competition, where she was one of thirty finalists to win a trip to Washington, D.C., to present her project and $1,000 to go toward her school’s science program. Edmonds began volunteering in the Aquarium’s education department with her mother and younger sister in 2011. She is interested in pursuing a career in marine biology or oceanography when she gets older.
Edmonds’ project was inspired in part by her experiences at the Ocean Exploration 2020 forum held at the Aquarium in 2013. She attended many of the sessions, including presentations by explorers Sylvia Earle, Bob Ballard, and Don Walsh. Their discussions inspired Edmonds to do an ocean-themed project for the science fair. Aquarist Dee Ann Auten, who maintains the exhibits in the Wonders of the Deep gallery, offered to help Edmonds with a project based on the animals in the gallery. Edmonds chose to investigate when flashlight fish light up the most and what may cause it. She did some research to learn about the species’ habitat and diet, but found that not as much was documented about flashlight fish behaviors.
For her project, Edmonds devised a sampling method to count the number of light-ups. It is estimated that flashlight fish can light up fifty times per minute and can vary how long their light stays uncovered. Edmonds used a video camera to capture five-minute intervals during rest periods, feedings, and other activity, such as exhibit cleaning or other distractions. Then she modified the footage with a reverse lighting effect to count the number of light-ups. She narrated her observations on video and wrote notes in her journal documenting any behaviors she observed. She also compared data over different times of the day and with different foods. Qualitatively, she documented any behavior she saw during feeding, cleaning, time of day, and distractions.
From her observations, Edmonds found that the Aquarium’s flashlight fish showed the most light-up activity during feeding time. She also noticed a hierarchy of scouts, as well as changes in the position of the group of fish within the exhibit, and that the fish seemed to seek out the darkest part of the tank depending on gallery lighting.
Edmonds’ project is an example of the Aquarium working with students to promote science learning based on inspiring curiosity and wonder that leads to exploration and discovery. To learn more about the Aquarium’s education programs for students, teachers, and families, click here.