For centuries, mariners have returned home with surreal tales of “milky seas”: expanses of seawater filled with bioluminescent bacteria that glow an eerie white. Little is known about these elusive sea conditions, says Steven D. Miller of the Naval Research Laboratory in Monterey, Calif.
To learn more, he and his team scoured ship records for modern sightings. They found only one well-documented occurrence, off the Somali coast on Jan. 25, 1995. They also obtained images collected at the same time and location by the U.S. Defense Meteorological Satellite Program. These included first-ever photos of a milky sea, a Connecticut-size area of the glowing water. Satellites that spot such seas in the future may give shipboard researchers ample lead time to investigate the phenomenon in person.