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A Brain in Each Leg? Follow Your Curiosity to the Bottom of the Ocean with Nathan Robinson (Episode #120)

Having filmed bioluminescent shrimp 4,700 feet beneath the sea and studied light as the world’s potentially most common communication method in the world, Dr. Nathan Robinson’s deep sea discoveries lead the world in exploring the depths of our ocean and changing the way we see this largely unexplored landscape. He spots opportunities for wonder everywhere, and celebrates them with a sense of awe that is infectious. Taking us to the most extraordinary realms on our planet, Nathan’s work and enthusiasm have the power to move mountains… and it may already have. 

Episode Highlights

About Our Guest:

Dr. Nathan Robinson is most famous for being the marine biologist who pulled the drinking straw out of the sea turtle’s nose in 2015, a video that now has over 90 million views and sparked the global revolution against single-use plastics that is now well underway. 

In his professional circles, Nathan is renowned for being one of only two people to film the giant squid at depth. And by “at depth,” I mean very deep: thousands of feet below the surface in the parts of our oceans that never see a photon of light. There, creatures are attuned to ways of communicating that are completely foreign to us. 

And that leads us to Nathan Robinson’s current area of interest: he is heading us all into new territory with the realization that sound is NOT the most important and common form of communication on the planet. No… it turns out that light is actually a more common method of communication and it is used in the most awe-inspiring ways. 

When it comes to this topic of light as a communication method, Nathan is also making some stunning deep sea discoveries in a field of physiology called “Bioluminescence.” This is the ability of some creatures to produce their own light. Think of the bioluminescent bays that you’ve heard about in the Caribbean, where someone swimming at night will be surrounded by sparkling ripples of light.

But Nathan’s team is studying the phenomenon as it relates to the entire deep sea ecosystem. 

He and his team have used a flashing lure to attract creatures to their cameras, and at about 4,700 feet beneath the sea, they filmed a shrimp spewing a glowing trail of bioluminescence from its mouth. It’s a defensive mechanism in the lightless world of the ocean’s depths. 

His stories (and the joy with which he tells them) are enough to make us feel that we haven’t scratched the surface of all there is to learn on this small blue planet. It’s a sentiment that left me feeling like insights that lead to solutions could come from almost anywhere, any time. 

Nathan is just all about wonder and in today’s interview, and brings story after story of what is possible when we master the art of following one’s curiosity. 

He has used novel camera technology to gain insights into what it is like to swim through the oceans like a sea turtle, and has produced breathtaking videos that help inspire countless people to live more ocean-friendly lives worldwide. 

Dr. Nathan Robinson has a Masters in Marine Biology from the University of Southampton (UK), a Ph.D from Purdue University (USA), and was a postdoctoral researcher at Purdue University Fort Wayne (USA). 

He is now a researcher at the Fundacion Oceanografic in Spain, and is putting all that knowledge and experience to good use, sharing what he discovers with the world in the most approachable, celebratory way. 

Resources Mentioned:

Nathan’s personal social media links:

And here are links to two of the stories that I mentioned in the interview:

Show Notes

(00:00 – 03:32) OPENING

(03:33 – 11:08)

  • Pulling the drinking straw out of the sea turtle’s nose
  • The wonderful impact
  • A movement is millions of people all banding together for a single goal
  • Organic waterfall effect
  • What you pay attention to matters

(11:08 – 23:20)

  • The giant squid at depth
  • The octopus has 9 minds
  • Bioluminescence
  • The deep sea
  • The deep sea is the biggest habitat (11,000 meters)
  • We‘re a lot more connected to the deep sea than people realize

(23:21 – 35:13)

  • The shrimp spew
  • Two examples of Bioluminescence
  • Edith Widder
  • Bioluminescence is stimulated when the ocean is disturbed
  • Ways to quantify Bioluminescence
  • Communication using light
  • We all have our own interpretation

(35:14 – 38:19) BREAK

(38:20 – 54:45)

  • Consciousness in animals
  • When the main brain of the squid is not engaged, then it’s just eight little brains doing their own little thing
  • We are capable of so much more than we realized
  • My Octopus Teacher
  • Use the positive emotions to promote conservation
  • BOOK: The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery
  • Octopus: Making Contact

(54:46 – 01:01:30)

  • To leave this planet slightly better than when I arrived
  • Everyone can play a role

(01:01:31 – 01:02:07) CLOSING

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