NATURAL PHENOMENON: Electric Blue, Glowing Waves Are Lighting Up Southern California’s Coast


Known as "sea sparkle," southern California is experiencing a natural phenomenon as masses of phytoplankton are lighting up its beaches.

Patrick Coyne had an unshakable vision and knew he had to capture it.

The Southern California photographer just needed a friend, a nighttime boat ride and his camera.

The pair set out into the waves and looked down into the dark waters. They were ready to give up when, in a perfect moment, they spotted the Bottlenose dolphins.

Gliding through the water, the pod was lit up electric blue by a natural phenomenon called “bioluminescence.” Created by microscopic organisms called dinoflagellates, these single-cell organisms float near the ocean’s surface and can chemically synthesize their own light, according to Smithsonian Magazine. Bioluminescence is typically intended to help an animal or organism warn or evade predators, to lure or detect prey or even to communicate.

Coyne captured video of the dolphins and posted it on his Instagram where the video has already received nearly 100,000 likes.

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•Dolphins Swimming in Bioluminescence• Last night was truly one of the most magical nights of my life. Capt. Ryan @lawofthelandnsea of @newportcoastaladventure invited me along to capture rare video of Dolphins swimming in bioluminescence. The first time I saw this actually filmed was a few months back while watching a Night on Earth documentary on Netflix. The second I saw that footage it became a dream of mine to one day capture something similar and that’s exactly what we did. This was by far the most challenging video I’ve shot for a number of reason. 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. 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. On top of all that just trying to nail the focus at such a wide aperture with something moving in the water was a nightmare. We were out for a few hours and on our final stretch back we finally had 2 Dolphins pop up to start the incredible glowing show. A few minutes later and we were greeted by a few more which was insane. I’m honestly still processing this all and I can’t thank @newportcoastaladventure enough for having me out because without them none of this would be possible. Be sure to check our their edit from last night as well! I hope you all enjoy this video. ——————————————————————————— Shot on a Sony a7Sii with a Rokinon 35mm Cine DS T1.5 Len. Shutter speed: 1/50 Aperture T2 ISO 80,000

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“Last night was truly one of the most magical nights of my life,” Coyne wrote.

Also called “sea sparkle,” the daytime look of these phytoplankton isn’t quite as pretty as it’s nighttime nickname. During the day the warmer waves of the Pacific appear to be a rust-red in the algae bloom. The bioluminescence takes effect at night when the blooms of organisms are moved by the waves or boats.

The glow-in-the-dark waves are also attracting more beachgoers and even surfers to experience the seemingly rare sighting despite state-mandated, stay-at-home orders. San Diego recently reopened its beaches.

According to the National Ocean Service, bioluminescence isn’t rare; it’s just rarely witnessed.

“If you’ve ever seen a firefly, you’ve encountered a bioluminescent organism,” according to the National Ocean Service. “Most types of animals, from bacteria to sharks, include some bioluminescent members.”

For Coyne, the photographer, it was seeing a video clip in the Netflix documentary Night on Earth that created a dream in his heart to capture similar footage. The waters off of Newport Beach served as the perfect setting for his vision to come to life.

“This was by far the most challenging video I’ve shot,” admitted Coyne in his post. “I’m honestly still processing and can’t thank @newportcoastaladventure enough for having me out.”