The strange red lights hovering over the Pacific are fishing boats, not aliens

Get real time updates directly on you device, subscribe now.

Issued on: 05/08/2022 – 13:25

American pilot Dustin Maggard took a photo on July 16 of strange red lights that he saw while flying over the Pacific Ocean. Since then, lots of people have shared the images on social media or left comments claiming that the lights are either secret military exercises or supernatural phenomena. In reality, the lights came from fishing boats equipped with particularly powerful LED lights. 


If you only have a minute

  • On July 16, during a flight over the Pacific Ocean, pilot Dustin Maggard saw strange red lights glowing beneath the clouds and managed to capture them on camera. Maggard told our colleagues at CNN that he had “never seen anything like it”.
  • Since then, the photos taken by the pilot have been shared widely on social media. People have all sorts of theories – some say they show supernatural phenomena while others say it is an underwater eruption or secret military exercises.
  • We contacted a meteorologist who looked into this. According to her investigation and those carried out by journalists specialising in fact-checking, these lights aren’t supernatural … turns out they are LED lights used by fishing boats in this part of the northern Pacific. 

The fact check, in detail

People online have left lots of comments and floated lots of theories – some more serious than others – about the origins of the strange red lights. The captions range from “you’d think we were in Stranger Things” to “there’s no question that it is a volcanic eruption” to “it’s a nuclear submarine!”. However, it turns out that these photos taken by an American pilot on July 16, 2022 have a much simpler explanation.

“A strange phenomenon was observed in the Pacific Ocean by the pilot of a commercial flight at 39,000 feet. Are they back?” reads this tweet posted in French on July 17, 2022 including the image taken over the Pacific Ocean. © Observers

One of the people who looked into this image was the founder of the Twitter account FAKE Investigation, which specialises in fact-checking, and the American meteorologist Neil Jacobs. All of them share the same hypothesis: that these red lights come from fishing boats, especially Chinese ones, equipped with LED lights (or light-emitting diodes).

In the northern part of the Pacific Ocean, in Japan, for example, lights are used for fishing squid, as well as saury, a type of fish.

Meteorologist Neil Jacobs told the FRANCE 24 Observers team:

Traditionally, these ships used high pressure sodium or metal halide lights, but those are extremely inefficient and very costly.  They are also limited in which color wavelengths they can emit.  These ships use onboard generators to create electricity, so you can imagine how expensive the fuel costs would be to produce all of this light for several hours every night.  Once LEDs hit the market, they were quickly adapted to this application because not only were they exceptionally efficient, but you can switch between various colors of light.  This meant that the vessels could just move north, and with the flip of a switch, change from white or blue [to attract squid] to red light [to attract saury].

These LED lights are so powerful that on May 7, 2022, they caused the sky over the city of Zhoushan, China to glow red.

These kinds of fishing boats were indeed operating in the zone that Maggard’s plane flew over on July 16. FAKE Investigation and Neil Jacobs verified this using Global Fishing Watch, an online map that tracks the movements of fishing vessels.

On July 16, Chinese fishing vessels equipped with these LEDs – among them the YONG FA 5 and the GUOJI907 – were fishing at coordinates 50N/167E. 

“Yesterday, while running a search for “fishing boats location map”, I came across this site. But the archives from July 15 and 16, 2022 weren’t available online yet. Now that they are, we can confirm that there were, indeed, fishing boats in this zone on July 16, 2022,” posted FAKE Investigation on Twitter. “According to data, there were seven boats in the zone, which seems like it could line up with the photos that circulated. Here are two examples.”

“So, in the end, we have large vessels that are equipped red LEDs that were at the precise location at the time the photo was taken – pretty compelling evidence,” Jacobs said.