San Diego Lobster season is right around the corner. The water will froth during the early days of October while sport and commercial fishermen alike drop traps then frantically race to check them. The sport fishermen drop hoop-nets with bait, rigged with a foam buoy often lit with a glow stick, then haul these nets up and down to check for legal sized lobster. The industrious fishermen working hard to bait, drop, pull, clean, rebait all while operating on the dark winter seas. The reward up to seven lobster per night.
Other sportsmen slip silently into the dark water to grab them by hand with snorkel and dive lights. The water is a dangerous place, especially at, night. Every year a few lobster divers loose their lives in search of the tasty bottom dwelling bugs. I myself have assisted as a first responder to one such incident where a skin diver did not bring his proud hard earned catch home.
On a busy night along the jetties of Southern California the observant passerby may look out into the bays and past rocky reef breaks to see glowsticks floating and flashlights searching. ONLY on rare occasions will people see bioluminescence. Let alone be on the water that night, in a kayak, fishing lobster…
While drinking homemade rum in the driveway (no good sea story begins with a salad)… my neighbor, and good friend, Steve and I hatched the plan to fish after work. Vehicles loaded the night before and sitting outside, we each watched the clock at our respective offices… Tick Tock… 4pm…GO!!! I was out the door like a dog with the gate left open and might have pealed out even. Who’s to say… Down the hill to La Jolla Cove past Scripts Aquarium with a view over the cove and straight out across the Pacific.
The sun hung low and urgently marked time till sunset. We wanted to launch through the surf with gear before it got dark. Paddle out and fish tuna during the waning light then move towards Children’s Beach to drop hoop-nets about a quarter mile offshore in 30 – 50 feet of water between kelp strands.
As the dark sky took hold, our only references were our GPS screens and the city lights. We dropped nets into the water. The water reacted with the blue-green glow so well known to bioluminescent algae blooms. The line and nets visible all the way to the bottom silhouette outlined by the blue-green glow. Mesmerized, we set all our nets to soak, and paddled in circles to enjoy the mind-bending apparition.
We marveled as the sea put on a show like no other. The abundance of sea life took advantage of the free night lights for a night hunt. Blue-green shapes of sea lions, sharks, and fish diving through clouds of bait balls resulting in bursts of light across the water which looked like thunderheads illuminated by lightning. Every strand of kelp under us lit up as it swayed with the swell. I stood on the rails of my kayak, with jaw agape, and watched the light show until vertigo set in. The star lit sky above and the feeling of floating free in three dimensional space without gravity. The floating au natural psychedelic trip, besides making me sing Pink Floyd …Wall covers in a croaky voice in my head, finally got the better of my equilibrium and I had to take a seat. Still dumbfounded, after the long silence Steve and I verbally confirmed what we saw with each other. This well attended glowing, blue-green outlined, coastal feeding frenzy went on for about an hour. We were the only boats on the water as far as the eye could see.
Our minds blown, and a few lobster each, we paddled a mile or two back to La Jolla Cove for a surf beach landing around midnight.
Of the many times I have seen the algae light up the ocean… I have never seen the glow vivid and crisp enough to clearly see anything that moved at any depth.
This year, come October, I will be skin diving for lobster. Hopefully I will get to join the animals in hunting spiny lobster with the benefit of bioluminescent algae.
For more information on the organisms that make the glow happen listen to this pod cast. The first minute or so the guys babble but they get into some really interesting discussion about how the organisms mix compounds just like a glow stick when the center vial is cracked. http://www.podtrac.com/pts/redirect.mp3/podcasts.howstuffworks.com/hsw/podcasts/sysk/2012-09-06-sysk-bioluminescence.mp3
For more information on taking lobster in Southern California check out California Department of Fish and Game website, here.