There are two types of bioluminescence that I know of. One form is created by the mixing of the chemicals luciferin and luciferase. Animals such as fireflies and anglerfish either have organs that produce luciferin and luciferase (both internally and externally) or support colonies of bioluminescent bacteria who produce these chemicals in their bodies, living in symbiosis in special organs called photophores.
The other kind is called phosphorescence. Phytoplankton, specifically dinoflagellates, use phosphorous to construct their shells and when they strike eachother, their shells emit light. I wonder if this phenomena is related to sodium particle emissions (turning a pickle into a crackling yellowish green lamp, with a load of lethal electrical current running through it).
Okay, let’s pretend we’re not nerds and get on with the story.
Two weekends ago I took a trip down to Ashikita and shared a cabin on the coastline with some friends. During the course of the night, we decided to go for a swim in the calm waters of the channel. The night was cold, but there was no wind and water was not much colder than that of the Pacific Ocean in Huntington Beach.
After contemplating the serene beauty of the moonlight rippling off of the wavelets, I led the initial solo banzai charge into the black water and belly-flopped with a Ker-Smack! An electric blue donut lived and died in a flash, circling me. Thrashing around, I was surprised to see a myriad of tiny blue lights, the same color as blue glow sticks but about the size of a grain of sand, flashing with the chaos of water within my sphere of influence. Everyone quickly joined in the melee,and the tiny dinoflagellates collectively gave off enough light to clearly see eachother underlighted by a ghostly blue. I dove beneath, and breaststroked (the best stroke of all), astounded at watching the lights illuminate my hands, arms, and even air bubbles. Someone else did this afterward, and from above it looked unreal- a fully illuminated glow-stick person doing the breaststroke. After twenty minutes the cold finally started to set in, and it was time to return to warmth brought by beer and heat of the cabins.
The next morning was as spectacular. Ashikita is a really beautiful coastal town, and there is an onsen at the top of a hill that looks over the channel. The onsen has a large panel of glass that offers a spectacular view, and there was a group of about 10 seahawks dive bombing out in front, trying to rob eachother of whatever they were eating. So, as we soaked and let the deep heat cleanse us of our weariness and hangovers, we were further invigorated by a perfect sunny/partly cloudy day and our airborne entertainment.
Being in the mountains, I really miss the sea. All of the trips that I have been on to the coast have been great, not just good. I am ready for another beach vacation right about now, as I contemplate the congealed bottle of olive oil. This weekend, I think thats where I will spend it.

2 thoughts on “Phosphorescence”

  1. I remember once on the west coast of Mexico paddling around in a rowboat at night in water which flouresced (sp?). Every swirl of the water from the paddle was flourescent blue. The best part was the small fish which jumped out of the water around our boat, leading to tracks of blue spirals down into the depths where they dove back into the water. Almost as cool as Wham at Christmas. 🙂

  2. Hey DenBeste, are you sure about these dinoflatulant things? Wasn’t this the weekend they found a reactor leak at the Ashikita power plant?

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