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Most people think that bioluminescence is a rather rare and unusual phenomena, but in fact. almost 80% of marine organisms have the ability to emit light of some sort. 

This amazing phenomena is probably one of the most beautiful things a person could witness, for us, it's the ocean equivalent of seeing the aurora borealis, and it is used by a surprisingly large range of animals and found in a wide range of habitats (we even know of some tidal pools around Ballito where this phenomena is seen regularly) 

What exactly is bioluminescence? 

Many animals use the light they produce the same way people use normal lightbulbs / torches. But these an­imals produce their light in a very different way (they clearly do not have 12v batteries). Traditional light bulbs create light through "incandescence". A process of heating a filament until it gets very hot and emits light. This process is very inefficient, since generating enough heat to create light wastes an enormous amount of energy.  Animals, on the other hand, typically create light through luminescence. In luminescent animals, chemicals are used to produce a glow. It's a lot like the way the substances inside a glow stick combine to make light. Luminescence is far more efficient than incandescence. It neither requires nor generates much heat, so it's sometimes known as cold light. 

Ocean animals that use bioluminescence use it for very different reasons, some animals use it for camouflage, others to mimic prey items or as lures for prey, some use light as a danger warning and in the case of squid, they even use their lights for communication purposes. 

The big trick however is actually catching this on camera, many smaller organisms that product bioluminescence produce such small flashes of light that capturing it on a normal camera is virtually impossible.

But one documentary filmmaker has developed technology capable of revealing the bioluminescent wonders of the world's oceans to us.

The problem with most bioluminescence is that it is designed to function at the very limits of animal vision, which is far beyond the limits of most cameras

The magic of bioluminescence "I have seen some utterly gorgeous things; dolphins swimming in bioluminescent waters was probably the highlight of my career," says documentary filmmaker Martin Dohrn, who has been specializing in bioluminescence for over 25 years. "The problem with most bioluminescence is that it is designed to function at the very limits of animal vision, which is far beyond the limits of most cameras," he explains. Watch the video above to see how Dohrn helped create a specialized camera that finally solved the conundrum of capturing this colorful phenomenon on film.

 

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