Take the 2-minute tour ×
Biology Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for biology researchers, academics, and students. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Popular science features on wildlife typically capture camera images using natural light, or high-speed exposures. This is not possible where the ambient light is extremely poor. E.g. Caves, Undersea

For beings accustomed to the stygian dark, the high illumination for a video camera and/or the flash of a still camera could both be the equivalent of a 1" spanner wallop on the head or worse. Do we, inadvertently, injure the local ecosystem this way?

share|improve this question
add comment

1 Answer

I don't know how harmful the exposure to a camera flash could be to organisms that live in complete darkness. However, since the animals that live in this conditions are usually blind, and the time of exposure is quite short, it's reasonable to assume that the damage produced should be minimal.

In the case of caves, permanent artificial illumination is very destructive to the environment, but the effect is due mainly to temperature changes and the introduction of organisms coming from more illuminated parts of the cave (cave organisms are usually slow and react poorly to light, so they are an easy prey if they're under light). In fact, for tourist activity, the use of lanterns or miner helmets is highly recommended.

In the case of abyssal ecosystems, ecological invasions are less likely, since there still exist a vertical barrier based in temperature, oxygen and carbon dioxide concentration and pressure. However, in this ecosystems there exist many animals which are very sensitive to light, due to the prominence of bioluminescence. Some of this animals could be damaged by the kind of light you describe. However, it's very unlikely that the main functioning of this ecosystems could be affected because of its extensive size. Moreover, the low population densities it has implies that even very long submersions would encounter only a few samples (with the exception of volcanic vents and some other geological curiosities which, in fact, are even more isolated from the rest of the biosphere by physical and chemical barriers), so the global effect should be negligible.

share|improve this answer
There's an example with mass blinding of deep-sea lobsters. I'll add details when I get a chance to look it up. –  Oreotrephes Aug 14 '13 at 15:47
Here it is: deep sea Norwegian Lobsters that were blinded by being brought to the surface as bycatch by fishermen (or by scientists tagging them). Original paper is Loew 1976, a more recent paper (Chapman et al. 2000) suggests that even a <1 minute light exposure could cause significant harm, which suggests a camera flash could certainly have an effect. –  Oreotrephes Aug 31 '13 at 0:43
add comment

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.