IT glows. It moves. And it’s forming a 300km long spiral pattern in the South Atlantic . So what exactly is being captured by satellite cameras over the coast of Argentina?
Alien invasion? Mutant krakens? A secret government experiment, perhaps?
When NASA set out to determine the source of a dramatic cluster of lights positioned some 400km off the Argentine coast, it found a much more mundane explanation.
Hundreds upon thousands of brightly illuminated boats bobbing on the currents in pursuit of an ever-more elusive catch.
The lights are reflections from the sea’s surface of spotlights being shined into the depths to entice one particular delicacy into their nets.
A fishing light using bright lights to lure the phytoplankton food source for a specific species of squid popular on supermarket shelves. Source: NASA
They do this by attracting the small creatures that make up the squid’s food source to the surface by the bright lights, and then dragging nets through the swarming mass of phytoplankton to scoop up the squid drawn to what they think is an easy meal.
The eerie three-armed pattern also has a mundane explanation: That is the shape of the Malvinas current and the economic exclusion zones between Argentina and Britain’s Falkland Islands.
Fisheries researchers suggest that as much as 300,000 tons of Illex squid are harvested from the South Atlantic each year by unlicensed, unregulated fishing vessels.
Fresh-caught Illex argentinus squid packaged and ready for South American supermarkets. Source: Supplied
“These lights help reveal the full range, patterns, and night-to-night variability of these fishing activities in striking detail,” said Colorado State University scientist Steve Miller.
The series of pictures below, showing the movement of the fishing boats over several nights, was captured by the Suomi NPP satellite.