Friday, March 2, 2012

Mysterious Toyama Bay

For the past 10,000 years, the sea forest has stood just as it is today. This mysterious world is a large bay on the east side of the Noto Peninsula, which projects into the Sea of Japan in west-central Japan. 3,000-meter-high mountains suddenly drop to 1,000 meters below the surface of the ocean creating wondrous natural phenomena and extreme habitat for exotic sea creatures. Known for its wide variety of fish, Toyama Bay has been dubbed "a natural fish tank," because throughout the year many kinds of fish (meaning "very fresh" in Toyama's local dialect) are caught and then unloaded from ships at bustling fishing ports along the coast of the bay, such as Uozu, Shinminato, and Himi. Nutrient-rich springs overflow from deep beneath the sea-bed, causing several hundred species of sea life to inhabit the area.

The coastal shelf in Toyama Bay is small, and the sea floor drops sharply a short distance from the land, with the deepest parts of the bay being more than 1,200 meters deep. Into the surface seawater of the bay, warm-water fish species are carried by the warm Tsushima current, while in the deep seawater at a depth of over 300 meters coldwater fish species live in the much cooler waters of the Japan Sea (deep seawater) at a temperature of around two degrees Celsius. Thus, Toyama Bay has an environment where both warm- and cold-water marine life can exist, and thus it is a treasure trove of marine resources.
Seventy percent of the total fish catch is comprised of migratory warm-water fish such as tuna and yellowtail, while the rest includes many kinds of deep-water fish and shellfish such as sweet shrimp, benizuwai crab, Japanese ivory shell, firefly squid, and white shrimp. Rare firefly squid and white shrimp are particularly valuable marine resources that are rarely found in areas other than Toyama Bay. Every spring, a large number of the tiny squids come to the coast from waters more than 200 meters deep for spawning. The mysterious pale blue light emitted by the squids in the night sea when they are caught is a common spring sight in Toyama Bay.

Watasenia scintillans, or the Firefly Squid, is only 3 inches long, but packs a stunning feature in that small package. At the end of their tentacles are special organs called photophores that light up like glow sticks at a rave. In the Toyama Bay, in the central Japan Sea, the squid are found in fantastic abundance. Normally living at 1200 feet underwater, a v shaped canyon in Toyama bay pushes the current, and the squid, to the surface in massive numbers where, forced up, the millions of squids turn the bay into a writhing, gleaming blue froth.
Fished by the ton from March to June, when the fishing boats dump the nets onto the boat floor the squirming squids light up and turn the boats themselves into blue beacons. Thankfully, for the curious visitors, one need not sign up to work on a Japanese fishing-boat tour to see the phenomenon.
The habitat of the world-famous glowing firefly squid limits itself to the Western Pacific ocean. The firefly squid is a middle-deep sea squid that can live on depths of 600 to 1200 (365m) feet. The body of these little squids are covered with photophores that give a blue light. The main goal of these photophores is to lure little fishes, so that it can catch them easier. Just as the vampire squid, the firefly squid has its photophores totally under control. He can make different light show patterns with these photophores to communicate with others, to distract a predator or even lure their pray.
The reproduction of the firefly squid, once a year (March to June) millions of squids come together to fertilize and to drop their eggs in the Toyama Bay in Japan. The big reunion of these squids is one big light show that you can admire and it attracts thousands of tourists. Once the firefly squids have done their job, they die. The firefly squid has a one year life-cycle and once that year is over they die and wash up on the shore. This event is very important for other sea creatures and sea birds who enjoy eating the dead bodies of the firefly squid.
Firefly squids are just as many other sea creature a delicacy in Japan and they're mainly caught when the firefly squids come together to mate.


Early in the morning, after 3 AM, sightseeing boats depart the Namerikawa fishing port (Namerikawa is also home to the world's only museum dedicated to the firefly squid) in Toyama prefecture, making a short journey to fixed nets located about 1 to 2 km offshore. As the fishermen haul in their nets, the light emitted by the firefly squid causes the sea surface to glow a cobalt blue, evoking squeals of delight from the tourists.
Toyama Bay's firefly squid fishing season opened on March 1 and is expected to continue until the end of June. Sightseeing boats are scheduled to run until May 7.



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