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A local photographer in California has spotted a rare event off the coast of Newport beach. Patrick Coyne witnessed glowing dolphins playing in what he describes as one of the most magical nights of his life.
Coyne spotted the dolphins dancing in bioluminescent waters. Luckily, he was able to record the breathtaking event with his camera and shared the footage on social media.
“We were out for a few hours and on our final stretch back we finally had [two] Dolphins [sic] pop up to start the incredible glowing show,” Coyne said on an Instagram post. “A few minutes later and we were greeted by a few more which was insane. I’m honestly still processing this all.”
But capturing the glowing dolphins with a camera was difficult. Coyne said it was “the most challenging video” since the presence of both bioluminescence and dolphins were hard to predict.
“For starters the bioluminescence has sweet spots to where it shows up and then fades away so while on the water it’s impossible to just find it,” Coyne explained. “Not only that but actually finding any type of animal in pitch black is just so ridiculously hard. Conditions have to be absolutely perfect for the bioluminescence to show up and to have an animal swim through it so we can film it.”
Bioluminescence occurs in coastal regions because of microscopic organisms called dinoflagellates. These marine “fire plants” are part of the plankton family.
Dinoflagellates are very sensitive to movement. When touched or startled, they create a flash of light that commonly lasts for up to 100 milliseconds, according to Sciencealert.
In Coyne’s video, the dolphins appeared glowing as the water was filled with a bunch of algae concentrated together. Rebecca Helm, an ecologist from the University of North Carolina Asheville, said on Twitter that the dolphins scared the algae they had “luminous little panic attacks.”
Dinoflagellates make a light show with the enzyme luciferase and the compound luciferin. The two chemicals are responsible for the glow reaction when the tiny organisms are mechanically disturbed.
Other marine species also use light to scare off predators. However, for humans the glow in the water at night looks stunning.