Alien Nation

Shooting Sea Fireflies


In this world, sometimes you feel you may have stumbled into another dimension, a parallel planet or Jurassic age of strange creatures, brooding volcanos and violent plumes of azure magma.  Like now, in these photos.  But the glowing lifeforms in these shots aren’t part of an alien nation, not quite.  They’re puzzling critters, creatures of the darkened depths with a luminous secret, known locally as ‘umi-botaru’ – sea fireflies. 


Terrestrial fireflies are beetles, but these bioluminescent bods are completely different.  They are tiny ostracods, more commonly known as seed shrimps.  They dig down in the sand during the day, and come out to feed at night. When you shine your torch on the black ocean, you can see them, little blobs, like hyped-up chia seeds flitting this way and that.

And they are exclusive too, oceanic VIPs, only visible in a few locations across the globe.  So, we’re incredibly lucky here, in the Japanese Inland Sea to catch a sight of them; it truly is a gift.  But they don’t normally hang out on rocks waiting for the Paleontological Paparazzi.  If you want them to star in your photos, you have to get your feet wet, go catch them ask for their cooperation!

There are many myths about their behaviour, like they only come out close to a full moon.  However, we found that, if you have the right bait, then they are more than happy to make your acquaintance.  In fact, the water is teaming with them.

When they light up, it’s like flicking a switch.  When they first leave the vials, there is a sudden burst of light, and then it dims real quick.  For that first instant, it’s magical, like a super-power, a stream of blue energy pouring out from your hands.  It’s a beautiful way to spend an evening.  But if ever you have the chance to do this, make sure you wash them back in to the sea, so they can carry on spooking the human race for millennia to come.

These photos were taken as part of a team project with Trevor Williams and Jonathan Gallione at TDUBPhoto.  They also appeared in the Japan Times on Sunday, October 2nd 2016.  Take a look at the published article if you want to learn more about these crazy lifeforms.