Bioluminescence off Southern California

June 29, 2020


Photographer: Matt Read 
Summary Author: Matt Read 

For several weeks in April and early May (2020), Southern California experienced an extensive red tide algal bloom. By day, the water appears rusty colored, but by night, the dino-flagellates responsible for the bloom, in this case, the phytoplankton named Lingulodinium Polyedra, exhibit bright blue bioluminescence when agitated.

My daughter, a marine biologist, and I went to see the nocturnal glow in person, near the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, in La Jolla, California. The pier in the image belongs to Scripps, which is affiliated with the University of California at San Diego (UCSD). This pier is closed to the public, but Scripps operates the Birch Aquarium, just up the hill from here, which primarily exhibits marine flora and fauna from Southern California.

In the picture, other fans of bioluminescence are observing social distancing guidelines while enjoying the display. The bioluminescent flashes occurred only as waves first broke. Also glowing in this image is the bright star Capella, near the upper right corner. Photo taken May 3, 2020, at 11:13:51 p.m.

Photo Details: Camera: Canon EOS 80D; Software: Adobe Photoshop CS4 Windows; Exposure Time: 6.000s; Aperture: ƒ/8.0; ISO equivalent: 3200; Focal Length: 24.0mm; Lens: EF-S15-85mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM.