Whidbey’s bioluminescence tours back for tenth year

For the tenth year in a row, Whidbey Island Kayaking in Langley is offering bioluminescence tours.

In the movie “Life of Pi,” stranded in the middle of a seemingly endless expanse of black water, the titular character becomes immersed in a dreamy blue glow in the otherwise dead of night. As he runs his hand through the dark surface, vibrant sparks mimic the stars. What must have felt like a new fire in the cold of winter created an otherworldly plane, a twinkling abyss above and below.

For the tenth year in a row, Whidbey Island Kayaking in Langley is offering a version of this.

Bioluminescence kayak tours start at the end of June and run until September.

The weavers of such marine galaxies are called noctiluca, a genus of dinoflagellate and one of the most common bioluminescent organisms off the world’s coasts. In the Puget Sound, noctiluca proliferate in the summertime because of seasonal wind patterns stirring up dense, nutrient-rich water. The organisms charge just like a solar battery, said Whidbey Island Kayaks owner Krista Loercher, so the extra sunlight helps too.

These phytoplankton light for self-defense, she said, an attempt to scare away predators. Like bees, they only get one shot. One blast emits all the light they’ve collected in the day. Once it’s gone, they must recharge for the next night.

When the bioluminescence season starts, Whidbey Island Kayaking chooses the blackest nights to hold tours, Loercher said. Guests strap on headlamps and life jackets and talk about the science involved and kayak safety. Then, they set off in search of aquatic fireflies.

Noctiluca appear in clusters, she said, so it takes some searching. Once Kayakers find a “good pocket” they stay and play with whisks and badminton rackets.

Guests typically erupt with excitement at sight of the first sparks, she said, and as the night goes on, especially calm nights, they can relax, dangle fingers in the water and take the spectacle in.

If the light is strong, patrons can see fish swimming beneath the kayaks. On the clearest nights, the line between water and sky blurs. In two hours, the boaters are wrapped up and back on shore.

The tour is different than the others they offer in that there is no destination. Kayakers are taken out into the Sound and go in the direction nature calls.

“It’s a really special and humbling experience,” Loercher said, “and because of that, we like to keep (the groups) smaller.”

Dates fill quickly by newsletter subscribers, Loercher said, and they have just a few spots left for the 2024 season. Many people drop out at the last minute, so it’s worth signing onto the waitlist even if the tour is full.

Whidbey Island Kayaking offers private tours or shared-group tours at $105 per person, running through the first of September. Visit whidbeyislandkayaking.com for more information.