Ocean waves at Virginia Beach’s North End were lighting up Sunday night as if they were Christmas tree lights set on random rotation.
A wave here, a wave there, glowed with bioluminescence, rolled in briefly and then went dark as other waves illuminated up and down the beach.
Folks, having heard about the ocean’s turning on the lights, walked over to the beach in the dark, from the North End to Sandbridge, to see for themselves.
Among them were Karen Burns, an education specialist in bay and ocean literacy, and museum educator Taryn Paul, both from the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center.
Paul took this photo of a wave that looks almost as if it is on fire at Sandbridge.
Bioluminescence lights up a wave at Sandbridge, Sunday, Aug. 18, 2016.
Courtesy of Taryn Paul
Burns said she managed to turn on the lights herself by moving her hand through the wet sand just above the tide line.
“Two nights ago, I could see the ghost crab ‘foot prints’ as they skittered away when we walked near their burrows,” Burns said.  “That was so cool!”
Like lightning bugs, some ocean creatures, from small plankton to jelly fish to even some fish and sharks, also can produce light.
The critters putting on the big  show now are probably dinoflagellates, a form of plankton, Burns said, and no telling how long they will be around.
“This phenomenon can be caused by a number of factors, including temperature, current patterns and nutrients in the water," she explained, “and usually happens in the late summer and early fall when the water temperatures are up and the seas are relatively calm.”
Animals, endowed with this ability, can use their lights to deter predators, attract a mate or to lure in prey.   
But Sunday night it appeared they were doing it just for us.