Discovering Bio-luminescent Waters

The Bio-luminescent world is truly magnificent. There are many places in this world which are beaming with life. The display of these creatures is magical. But behind all of this beautiful performance is a world filled with many untold mysteries. Throughout history, stories of bioluminescence were often thought to be pure fiction. In the 1870s Jules Verne, the French science-fiction author wrote in his book ‘20,000 Leagues Under the Sea’, “At 7 o clock in the evening, a ship half emerged was sailing in the sea of milk. At first sight, the ocean seemed lactified. The whole sky seemed black by contrast with the whiteness of the waters.”



Jules Verne may have based his story on a myth told to him by sailors, however, in 1995 the captain of a British vessel wrote a real-life account in his ship’s log. “At 1800 hours on a clear moonless night while 150 miles east of the Somalian coast, a whitish glow was observed on the horizon. After 15 minutes of steaming, the ship was completely surrounded by a sea of milky white colour with a fairly uniform luminescence. And it appeared as the ship was sailing over a field of snow or gliding over the clouds.” Reports like these are rarer than the supposed sightings of the loch ness monster and there was no photographic evidence.


Some animals have stolen the genes of the bacteria and incorporated them as their own DNA. Others have simply kidnapped the bacteria themselves, like the flashlight fish. Their lights are produced by bacterial captives in special organs below the eyes.


Some scientists, Including marine biologist Steven Haddock, were curious and sought confirmation from above. “We looked at the satellite from the shipperport in 1995. We cleaned up the noisy sensor image from the camera, we mapped it onto the ship track, and a 300-kilometre feature emerged on the map, matching exactly with what the ship had reported. So it was really an amazing moment.” Said Steven Haddock.

Satellite images from the space age validated a piece that was once thought of as a myth. On rare occasions, oceans do glow.

But what is causing the glow so bright that can be seen from space? The glow is in fact produced by bacteria found in almost all seawater. On rare occasions when currents and temperatures cause a large bloom of algae in the ocean, they start to feed on dying algae. Once they reach a critical concentration their secretions trigger others to glow. They start glowing in such numbers that they can be detected by a satellite in orbit.




Only now has it become possible to film such scenes in such clarity. But every nigh spectacular night shows like this play out somewhere in the vastness in the oceans.


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