Walking along the beach at night or sailing on a darkened sea, you can often see sparkling lights in the water. This natural occurrence is caused by bioluminescent photoplankton. Bioluminescence is the production of light by a living organism as the result of a chemical reaction. Bioluminescence occurs in marine vertebrates and invertebrates, as well as microorganisms and terrestrial animals. Eighty percent of all creatures known to produce their own light live in the ocean.
Scientists believe it serves a variety of functions for animals including communication, defense against predators, hunting, and attracting a mate. For some deep-sea creatures, their body light may help them see in an otherwise completely dark environment. A number of deep-dwelling sharks have special light-emitting organs on their undersides that allow them to glow. Squids combine bioluminescent bacteria and light organs in order to camouflage themselves. The anglerfish famously uses a glowing lure to entice their prey and certain type of shrimp squirt a glowing cloud to defend itself from predators.
The most common sighting of bioluminescence appears when photoplankton are moved by a disturbance in the water. This can be caused by a breaking wave, the wake of a passing boat, or by a swimmer taking an evening dip. It is quite astonishing to experience first hand. Luckily it happens all over the world! BlooSee Team members have seen bioluminescent photoplankton in Chile, Bermuda, and Southern California. Our members have seen them in a variety of places too: the beaches of Vaadhoo, kakaying in Estero Banderitas, and in the waves near San Diego. Where have you encountered these beautiful lights?