At other times, again, the phosphorescence is still more partial. “Great domes of pale gold with long streamers,” to use the eloquent words of Professor Martin Duncan, “move slowly along in endless succession; small silvery disks swim, now enlarging and now contracting, and here and there a green or bluish gleam marks the course of a tiny, but rapidly rising and sinking globe. Hour after hour the procession passes by, and the fishermen hauling in their nets from the midst drag out liquid light, and the soft sea jellies, crushed and torn piecemeal, shine in every clinging particle. The night grows dark, the wind rises and is cold, and the tide changes; so does the luminosity of the sea. The pale spectres below the surface sink deeper, and are lost to sight, but the increasing waves are tinged here and there with green and white, and often along a line, where the fresh water is mixing with the salt in an estuary, there is a brightness so intense that boats and shores are visible.... But if such sights are to be seen on the surface, what must not be the phosphorescence of the depths! Every sea-pen is glorious in its light, in fact, nearly every eight-armed Alcyonarian is thus resplendent, and the social Pyrosoma, bulky and a free swimmer, glows like a bar of hot metal with a white and green radiance.”
Such accounts are enough to indicate how varied and how general a phenomenon is the phosphorescence of the sea. To take notice of one tithe of the points of interest summed up in the paragraph just quoted would occupy many pages, and we must therefore confine the attention to a few of the most interesting facts relating to marine phosphorescence.
We will return to that form of marine luminosity to which we first referred: what is known as the general or diffused phosphorescence of the sea. From this mode of describing it the reader must not infer that the surface of the ocean is ever to be seen all aglow in one sheet of continuous light. So far, at least, as was ever observed by M. de Quatrefages, who studied this phenomenon carefully and during long periods on the coasts of Brittany and elsewhere, no light was visible when the surface of the sea was perfectly still. On the other hand, when the sea exhibits in a high degree the phenomenon of diffused phosphorescence no disturbance can be too slight to cause the water to shine with that peculiar characteristic gleam. Drop but a grain of sand upon its surface, and you will see a point of light marking the spot where it falls, and from that point as a centre a number of increasing wavelets, each clearly defined by a line of light, will spread out in circles all around.