(WIRED) -- Bobbing along on the research vessel Western Flyer just outside California’s Monterey Bay, marine biologist Karen Osborn and her colleagues were hauling deep-sea fish to the surface for cataloging and a photo shoot. Osborn got her hands on a fangtooth, a self-explanatory creature with a mouth full of nasty, big, pointy teeth, attached to a stout, teardrop-shaped body. Using her custom-built system of strobe lights and a camera mounted above a tank, she could capture the rare specimen for science.
Yet when she put the fangtooth in front of the camera, it turned into a living black hole—the outline was there, but not the fine details, as if the fish was devouring light. “I was trying to take pictures of it, and I was just getting these silhouettes,” Osborn says. “They were terrible.”
This wasn’t her first photo shoot with a deep-sea fish, so it couldn’t be operator error. But wait a second, Osborn figured. “I had tried to take pictures of deep-sea fish before and got nothing but these really horrible pictures, where you can't see any detail,” she says. “How is it that I can shine two strobe lights at them and all that light just disappears?”
Advertisement - story continues below