Our Bioluminescence Kayak Tours offer you a chance to enjoy some of the finest light shows that nature provides! Beneath our kayaks, the fertile waters of the San Juan Islands support plankton that produces sparkling lights. And in the sky above, our rain-shadow shields away clouds to create the clearest nights anywhere in western Washington.
What Is Bioluminescence?
Bioluminescence is a biological light display that produces no heat. It is created by special protein, and enzyme combinations found that evolved in organisms ranging from fungi to fish. Some glow continuously, while others can carefully control their light in unique displays.
In the sea, most bioluminescence is produced by plankton – organisms that drift on the currents. These include pulsating “jellyfish,” clusters of salps, and even masses of mating marine worms! But the vast majority are microscopic dinoflagellates that photosynthesize sunlight for energy during the day. By night they release sparkles of light when disturbed by the movements of fish, seals, kayaks, and waves.
Why Does Bioluminescence Exist?
One theory for why bioluminescence occurs is called “The Enemy of my Enemy is My Friend hypothesis.” Here’s how it works: by releasing light when a predator moves in, they have a chance of illuminating a different target to get eaten. Or the predator itself could be illuminated and be eaten by a larger one! Jellies may use their light to attract prey light moths to a candle. Others, such as nerius worms, use their glow to attract mates – very sexy!
Is Bioluminescence the Same Thing as Phosphorescence?
Bioluminescence is a strictly biological phenomenon. Phosphorescence also produces no heat but differs by releasing light absorbed by a chemical process. The reason you may hear some people use the wrong term is that soldiers in World War II saw light in the sea of the same color as their phosphor tracer bullets. Not knowing any biology, they mistakenly called it “phosphorescence,” and the improper name stuck for decades afterward.
How do I Choose a Date for My Bioluminescence Kayak Trip in Friday Harbor?
Bioluminescence and the lunar cycle have a strong relationship. A bright full moon will make the glowing organisms seem dimmer. Oppositely, a dark new moon will allow the full glory of bioluminescent organisms to shine! The “in-between” phases of the lunar cycle offer moderate displays. To increase your chances of seeing a good bioluminescence display on your kayak trip with Sea Quest, use the lunar calendar on this page and select a date with a darker moon. If you must pick a date with a partial moon, go when the moon is in the “third quarter” of the cycle. This is when the moon is waning (getting smaller) and rises later at night. The “first-quarter” moon is waxing (getting larger) and rises well before the sun sets.
What Dates are Best for Bioluminescence Kayak Tours on San Juan Island?
June, July and August are best due to plentiful sunlight and warmer surface waters. But there is still the potential of seeing displays in late spring and early fall.
What Lunar Phases are Best for Star-Gazing & Bioluminescence?
- March 15-27
- April 13-26
- May 12-25
- June 10-24
- July 10-23
- August 8-22
- September 6-21
- October 6-20
What Lunar Phases Best are for Romantic Moonlight Kayak Tours?
- March 4-10
- April 3-9
- May 2-8
- June 1-7 + 30
- July 1-6 + 29-31
- August 1-4 + 28-31
- September 1-3 + 26-30
- October 1-2 + 25-31
Trip Details for The Bioluminescence Kayak Tour from San Juan Island
- Schedule: Bioluminescent Kayak Tour offered daily
- Trip Fee: $129 per person plus 8.3% state tax & $10 government launch fee. On rare dates, the fee is $149 due to limited resources, and this will be noted in the online reservation system.
- Meeting Place: Friday Harbor, San Juan Island. Look for our van and kayak trailer in the traffic circle adjacent to the Friday Harbor Ferry Terminal.
- Meeting Time: Bioluminescence kayak trips usually begin at sunset. Note that the trip start times in our reservation system vary with seasonal daylight hours. Our online reservation system will indicate the exact meeting time if you enter a specific date. If the times don’t work for you, we may be able to change them to meet your needs so feel free to ask!
- Itinerary: Our shuttle van takes you to the launch beach. The drive takes between 5 to 25 minutes. We provide a one hour kayak lesson on the beach. This lesson familiarizes everyone with the basic skills before we launch the sea kayaks in the dark. We then explore for about 1½ hours, covering 1 to 2 miles during the kayak adventure. We will paddle at a leisurely pace in search of good areas. If we find a rich spot we will float there to soak in the experience and look for the glowing outlines of fish of and seals. Remember to bring a headlamp or flashlight but turn it off to enjoy the bioluminescence!
- Finish Time & Place: Friday Harbor Ferry Terminal; 3 hours after we pick you up.
- Total Time: Approximately 3 hours from meeting your guides to finish. Be aware that our weather, winds or currents can occasionally delay us!