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Incredible bioluminescent waves are lighting up Californian beaches

Daring ocean lovers in southern California are enjoying an alluring bright-blue spectacle, with bioluminescent waves lighting up beaches along the coastline.

Dale Huntington, a pastor at a San Diego church, says he’d “never seen anything like it.” The 37-year-old rose at 3 am to surf the illuminated waves.

Bioluminescence california
Image: Scott Murphy

Dolphins, surfers, and local spectators are gathering in southern Californian beaches to catch a glimpse of the dreamlike swells.

“My favorite part was paddling out – it was almost like there was a glow stick around your hand,” Huntington tells The Guardian. “My board left a bioluminescent wake. There were a few of us out there and we were giggling, grown men shouting ‘this is so cool’ and splashing around like kids in the bathtub.”

Bioluminescence expert Michael Latz, a scientist at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego, says the natural light show is due to aggregations of the algae Lingulodinium polyedra. The species “use bioluminescence as a predator avoidance behaviour,” he says.

In the daytime, the algae collect on the water surface and form what’s known as the red tide. But at night, when agitated by waves or other movement, the phytoplankton shines a vivid turquoise.

Red tides have been observed since early last century and can last from a number of days to a few months. In this instance, the neon blue waves have stayed for almost three weeks, spanning from Baja California to Los Angeles.

Locals are emerging from their homes and pushing isolation measures to catch a glimpse of the luminescent ocean. Gatherings of large crowds have prompted some residents to urge authorities to increase restrictions.

San Diego’s recent modifications to shelter-in-place laws allow swimming, surfing, kayaking, and paddleboarding. The dolphins seem to be having a good time.

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