Bioluminescence as a method of assessing fish stocks

December 08, 2014
Bioluminescence as a method of assessing fish stocks
A lot of people say it is mystical, I can see why they think that….people also think it’s rare, it actually isn’t, it happens nearly everywhere in the ocean.
Dr Charlotte Marcinko of the NOC

Research by the National Oceanography Centre (NOC) explores a promising new method of forecasting bioluminescence, which may improve the monitoring of movements in the ocean, such as fish shoals and internal waves.

As fish move through the sea they churn the water around them. This movement disturbs the bioluminescent organisms, triggering a chemical reaction that emits a flash of light. The combined flashes of hundreds of thousands of organisms give the impression of a constant glow of blue light, which Aristotle termed ‘flaming seas’ around 410 BC.
This research, conducted by Dr Charlotte Marcinko of the NOC, is the first time that anyone has examined how bioluminescence could be predicted by modelling the bioluminescent organisms themselves. Previously scientists have used relationships between bioluminescence and other biochemical environmental variables to try and predict when and how much bioluminescence there would be in a given area. The study by Dr Charlotte Marcinko, published in the Journal of Marine Systems, uses a simple ecological model to simulate seasonal changes in the abundance of a particular type of bioluminescent organisms called dinoflagellates.
Charlotte explains why she embarked on this research: “I once went on a cruise and saw bioluminescence lighting up the boat's wake…I just looked at it and I couldn’t help but wonder what caused it. A lot of people say it is mystical, I can see why they think that…people also think it’s rare, it actually isn’t, it happens nearly everywhere in the ocean.”
It is not yet known why dinoflagellates emit light. One key theory is that the flash of light is intended to startle predators. The other is the ‘burglar alarm’ hypothesis, in which the light is intended to alert larger predators to the presence of the one threatening the bioluminescent organisms themselves, thereby using the larger predictors as ‘body guards’.
This research was funded by NERC as part of the LAMP project at the National Oceanography Centre.


Dr Charlotte Marcinko demonstrating bioluminescent  organisms.

Home | Back to top

Information for…


The outputs of research generate new knowledge about the oceans. Transferring scientific knowledge to support business and industry is an important part of our NOC remit.



Our research is intended to tackle the big environmental issues facing the world. Research priorities will include the oceans' role in climate change, sea level change and the future of the Arctic Ocean.



The University of Southampton and the University of Liverpool both offer a range of highly regarded undergraduate and post-graduate degrees in Ocean and Earth Science.



For any media or press enquiries to the National Oceanography Centre follow the more link below. Please note the centre's press office is staffed from 0830 to 1730, Monday to Friday.



NOC Staff can access the Intranet and Webmail resources at the following URLS.


Follow what we are up to:

Follow NOCnews on Twitter Follow NOCSnews on Youtube Follow NOC on facebook

Subscribe to our email alerts service:
NOCMail logo

Delivery Partners

Delivery Partners helping to provide marine science national capability.


Marine Science Community

The creation of a wider association of Universities and research institutions to support wider engagement of the NOC with the marine science community is now underway.



The National Oceanographic Library is a national resource for the UK marine science community.


Principal scientists

All updated information for cruise participants can be found using the Marine Facilities Planning website: