Noon position: 39° 8'11.98"N 179°59'47.76"E
July 18, 2009
As a SCUBA instructor for Surf and Sea in Haleiwa Oahu, I do get periodic times to swim with Hawaii’s favorite spinner dolphin, I have even had the opportunity to see bottlenose dolphin. Be it all of these encounters were wonderful and exciting in their own right, nothing prepared me for what I experienced last night.
After my usual 2 am wakeup call from Jeff to begin my night watch on another night of motoring through a windless calm at about 4 knots, I noticed an unusual glow coming from the water off of the stern of the boat. I quickly realized that the green column of water trailing the boat for about 100 ft was the bioluminescence resulting from the port engine propeller. Bioluminescence is the glowing green light emitted by a reaction within certain planktonic organisms, when their surrounding water is disturbed. Unless you are on a boat at night in plankton rich water, the next best way to see an example of bioluminescence is to swim, snorkel or dive at night, then turn off your lights and move your hand back and forth through the water. You should see some tiny green swirling lights around your hand. The more plankton in the water, the more lights emitted.
Well the waters out here are so rich with plankton, that when Jeff told me I should see the bioluminescence from the bow, I was astounded at what I saw. The catamaran left 2 bright glowing green waves and green swirling lines that followed the bow wake pattern. All the while, bright green bursts could be seen as larger sources of bioluminescence were triggered by the pressure wave in the water. The sound waves of the engine would trigger the reaction in the larger pelagic planktonic organisms deeper and further ahead of the boat, so they would “light up” as we approached. The waveless, windless night combined with a vantage point less than 3 feet from the water’s surface made this a once in a lifetime occasion for me.
After 10 minutes of just gazing at this phenomenon, I was suddenly startled as 2 large green streaks shot from beneath the boat, between the hulls and splashed to the surface right in front of me, then split to either side of the boat. Three more streaks shot in from port side and I could see clearly through the water that unmistakable shape...Dolphin!
The only way I could describe it was the dance of the sugar plum fairies out of the movie Fantasia, only with dolphin making the trails. I could watch them go deep and the green glow would get dim and then get brighter and brighter as they got close to the surface again...then splash they would break the surface. The shape was created by the glowing green bioluminescence generated as the graceful swimming machine moved through the water.
It was like watching an animated movie with special effects…it was surreal!!!! I could clearly see the details of each animal as it swam under my nose just out of arms reach. Tails, fins, body, were all clearly visible with the green outline through the clear calm water. Within seconds I had 10 to 12 dolphin doing what dolphins do….playing in the wake of a boat. The dolphin kept shooting in from the sides, darting up from the deep, two or three at a time, swirling in front of my face, each with its own green silhouette and ocean meteor trail extending at times, up to 20ft behind each powerful tail.
For only the second time in my life, my breath was actually taken away. I sat for what must have been 5 minutes in complete amazement by the visual ballet being performed just for me. With tears building up, I thought this is not fair that my wife Jamie couldn’t be here to experience this with me, this is just one of those times you want to share with loved ones. I then thought, maybe I should wake the crew.
Well Christiana was first to show up and the dolphin continued the show. At one point we saw a big green ball rise from deep beneath the boat only to explode into 5 individual silhouette trails dancing apart, then coming back together as the graceful sea mammals continued their dance while trails from flying fish scattered about. Nicole and Charlie finally got up in time to see the show before the dolphin went on their way, but Joel and Jeff didn’t leave their bunks…oh well, their loss. We think they were the same pod of common dolphin that came by after the sun came up.
One of the things that crossed my mind while watching this light show that was taking place, was the question of what it must look like from underwater and the realization that, dolphin have good eyes so they get to see this all the time from under water. Just another reason why I believe when it comes to rank on the life ladder, we are several rungs below the dolphin, they are just designed too perfect…they don’t need technology to create their own light show.
This will rank as one of the greatest experiences of my lifetime! It’s just sad to think they have to swim through all that plastic that I see during the day.
Writing and photography by crew member Drew Wheeler (Thanks Drew!!!! )You can learn more about his underwater videography at http://www.scubadrewvideo.com/ and follow his account of the voyage on his blog at http://trashvoyage.com/