This video seems like magic, but it's really just Mother Nature.

By Stacey Leasca
April 27, 2020
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Something magical is happening off the coast of Southern California.

On Thursday, Newport Coastal Adventure, a whale watching company in Newport, California, took to Facebook to share a remarkable natural event taking place right now just off the coast.

No, this isn’t a scene out of Avatar. Rather, it’s a spectacular show put on by a few dolphins and some glow-in-the-dark plankton.

“The bioluminescence off Newport Beach has been out of this world,” the company explained in the caption of its viral Facebook video. “Last night Capt. Ryan took the Zodiac out to look for dolphins, and together with friend Patrick Coyne filmed this amazing interaction with a pod of dolphins as they lit up the night.”

As Science Alert explained, getting footage like this is incredibly rare. The glowing outline of the dolphins is caused by microscopic organisms called dinoflagellates. Science Alert added, these marine creatures are members of the plankton family. They also happen to be very sensitive to touch. When poked or touched each cell “emits a flash of light lasting up to 100 milliseconds, almost like a burglar alarm. If there's a whole bunch of algae concentrated together, as Coyne's video shows, a flip of the fin can lead to quite the show.”

The light is produced inside the tiny dinoflagellates body thanks to two chemicals: the enzyme luciferase and the compound luciferin. Together, they glow when the creature is scared.

But seriously, don’t let this serene footage fool you. This is an astonishingly difficult shot to get, no matter how scared the tiny little plankton are by the dolphins.

“Last night was truly one of the most magical nights of my life,” Coyne added in an Instagram post. “This was by far the most challenging video I’ve shot for a number of reasons. 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 for the bioluminescence to show up and to have an animal swim through it so we can film it.”

Coyne added, “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 two dolphins pop up to start the incredible glowing show. A few minutes later and we were greeted by a few more which was insane. I’m honestly still processing this.”

Want to see even more bioluminescence magic? Check out the glowing waves in Newport Beach below to find a moment of zen in the madness.