Filming the fantastical fluorescent light show beneath the waves

Glowing dolphins caught on video
Bioluminescent sea creatures

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Glowing dolphins caught on video 03:17

Story highlights

  • Bioluminescence is a chemical reaction where an organism creates light
  • It occurs through the natural world but it is particularly difficult to capture on camera
  • A British filmmaker has designed a camera to make bioluminescence visible on film
The Art of Movement is a monthly show that highlights the most significant innovations in science and technology that are helping shape our modern world.

(CNN)With their feet dug into the sand, tourists sit in awe on the beach front, mesmerized as little sparks of electric blue light twinkle brightly in the water. The natural neon particles seem to dance across the waves as they break along the shore. And with every disturbance in the water, a pulsating flash of light is emitted.

This is the most common way bioluminescence is observed and it's on many a traveler's bucket list, but it's surprisingly difficult to capture on camera. Countless happy-snapping tourists have struggled to shoot bioluminescence -- where a chemical reaction causes certain organisms to emit light -- in all its ethereal glory.
    But one documentary filmmaker has developed technology capable of revealing the bioluminescent wonders of the world's oceans to us.
    The magic of bioluminescence
    The magic of bioluminescence

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    The magic of bioluminescence 03:00
    "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.