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These dolphins swimming through bioluminescent waves off the coast of Newport Beach are the wildest thing we’ve seen

Michael Juliano
Written by
Michael Juliano

We’re used to seeing all sorts of amazing marine life around L.A.: sea lions cruising off the coast of Malibu, pods of dolphins following the ferry to Catalina, whales breaching in the waters off Orange County. But dolphins darting through electric-blue water like some sort of Lisa Frank artwork?!

Well, whale watching tour company Newport Coastal Adventure shared footage of an unbelievable encounter with dolphins swimming through bioluminescent waves off the coast of Newport Beach. The Facebook video description says that captain Ryan Lawler and his friend Patrick Coyne set out on an inflatable boat in search of dolphins when they able to capture this scene just after sunset.

For such a surreal phenomenon, it actually has a pretty straightforward—if slightly icky—explanation: algae. According to the The Orange County Register, the pair set out on their boat because the area’s coastline had seen a red tide recently, in which algae blooms become so thick that they visibly discolor the water. Some types of these tiny ocean-dwelling organisms undergo a chemical reaction that gives off blue light. And while you can’t see this light during the day, the algae tends to swim upward toward the light in the daytime—meaning if they’re still sticking around at sunset, you might just be in luck to catch them illuminating.

Coyne posted more footage to his Instagram account, and we were able to find some more bioluminescence along the SoCal coast from photographer Mark Girardeau, as well. Check out the shots below.

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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 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 incredible. 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

A post shared by Patrick Coyne (@patrickc_la) on

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•Newport Beach Bioluminescence• Last nights bioluminescence in Newport Beach was incredible! So far it’s the brightest I’ve ever seen. My buddy @markgirardeau called me letting me know that there was a red tide which was originally discovered by @visual_burrito earlier that day. It doesn’t always happen but a red tide could indicate some bioluminescence which is why we went. Keeping our distance of course I ended up getting some pretty incredible video showing how blue and bright it really was. If you’ve never seen bioluminescence before it’s definitely something you have to see with your own eyes! Newport Beach is among some of the beaches in Orange County that are still open, just wanted to mention that. Hope you guys enjoy the videos! ——————————————————————————— Filmed on my Sony a7iii with a Rokinon 35mm Cine DS T1.5 Setting we’re: Shutter speed 1/50 T1.5 ISO 80,000

A post shared by Patrick Coyne (@patrickc_la) on

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While the bioluminescence has been hit or miss the last few nights, this photo shows that the red tide is still around, just concentrated beyond the waves. This photo was taken last night with a boat (Captain doing donuts through the red tide (aerial long exposure). The last few nights have been windy making ocean conditions choppy with no waves. What I believe needs to happen (I could be wrong) is calm surface conditions with larger waves, the dinoflagellates give off the blue glow when agitated by waves or other disturbances after not being disturbed for some time but when there’s constant wind and disturbance on the water, they’ve already been agitated. This red tide is actually happening all along our beaches throughout Orange County so theres not just one good spot for it, you need good waves and a dark beach, it can happen at any time throughout the night. Good luck!

A post shared by Orange County Outdoors (@orangecountyoutdoors) on


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