NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. (KSWB) – Bioluminescent waves continue to stun along the Southern California coastline, drawing dozens out to the beach at night in an attempt to spot the electric blue spectacle.

However, passengers on a Newport Beach boat got a special treat Monday night, as they caught a rare glimpse of dolphins swimming through the glowing waters.

  • Bioluminescence in the water near Newport Beach on Sept. 11, 2023. (Credit: Mark Girardeau/ @OrangeCountyOutdoors, @NewportCoastalAdventure)
  • A red tide near a Del Mar

The iridescent waves are connected with a phenomenon called a “red tide,” according to the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

A red tide describes a build-up or bloom of microscopic organisms that are similar to plankton. These organisms are called Lingulodinium polyedra.

By day, these organisms display a reddish-brown color, creating an intensified red color in the water, hence the name “red tide.” By night, waves — or other things moving in the water, like a dolphin — agitate the plankton, prompting a chemical reaction that causes them to emit that gorgeous blue glow.

However, the red tide can be quite unpredictable. As soon as it rolls into shallow waters, it’s hard to know how long it will last. Previous bioluminescence events have lasted anywhere from a week to several months, according to Scripps.

The lucky few who caught a glimpse of the dolphins swimming through the neon waters were out on a cruise with boating company Newport Whales. But those who want to check out the glowing waves from the shore can grab a blanket or some chairs — and prepare to wait for a bit — to witness the breathtaking nighttime display.