When it comes to sea creatures with superhero powers, the common octopus (Octopus vulgaris) might take the cake: with jaw-dropping camouflage abilities, ink, and incomparable intelligence, the octopus is every marine biologist’s dream (and every prey species’ nightmare).
If you asked the artist Salvador Dali to dream up an ocean creature, he might have designed something very much like the leafy seadragon, one of the ocean’s most uniquely beautiful creatures. Covered in gossamer ruffled appendages, the characteristic tassels and frills that adorn the leafy seadragon’s head and body serve as spectacular camouflage, baffling both predators and prey, and make the seadragon all but invisible among seaweeds and kelp beds.
You won’t find land-dwelling lizards scampering about coral reefs, but you might do a double-take when you see the reef lizardfish. Also known as variegated lizardfish, these strange reef-dwellers look surprisingly like lizards. They’re found in coral reefs throughout Indonesia and along the coast of India and northern Australia.
Instead of our weekly Creature Feature, we’d like share an awesome new finding about one well-known ocean creature, the blue whale. Scientists discovered that earwax can reveal amazingly details about the life of whales, according to a study published last week in the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Magnificent frigatebirds aren’t the beauty queens of the bird world, but they do get points for bold style. These seabirds have a seven foot wingspan and an inflatable, bright-red throat sac under their bills that they used in elaborate courtship displays. Only the males have these sacs—female frigatebirds have a non-inflatable white neck, making them the only seabird species where the males and females look very different.
If you're a fan of sea turtles, you might have heard about the mighty loggerhead sea turtle. Growing 2 to 3 feet long and weighing in at a massive 165–350 pounds, loggerheads are heavier than many people. These reptiles are actually the second-largest marine turtle (only the leatherback is larger.) Named for their hefty heads, loggerheads are found in tropical and temperate waters around the world.
It’s venomous, voracious, and taking over reefs across the western Atlantic.
This strange-looking predator is a lionfish, a.k.a. Pterois volitans. Native to Indo-Pacific reefs, lionfish are anything but subtle. The large, striped spines protruding from their bodies are their main defense, filled with neurotoxic venom to deter predators. While the venom isn’t deadly to humans, running afoul of a lionfish isn’t fun—side effects include excruciating pain, headaches, difficulty breathing, and vomiting. Lesson learned: don’t mess with a lionfish.
Like something out of your nightmares, the fangtooth (Anoplogaster cornuta, Anoplogaster brachycera) lurks in the darkest depths of the ocean. Wielding huge, saberlike teeth, the fangtooth has the largest teeth in the ocean relative to body size. The phrase “relative to body size” is important to remember here, however: the larger of the two species of fangtooth reaches a maximum length of just 6 inches, rendering these tiny balls of ferociousness harmless to humans.
After a gigantic eyeball washed ashore in Ft. Lauderdale last week (likely belonging to a swordfish) this week the ocean reminded us again what mysteries lurk in the deep when a 15 foot oarfish washed up on the Baja Peninsula.
By oarfish standards, though, 15 feet is scrawny. This little known and poorly understood creature has been documented to reach 36 feet in length making it the longest bony fish known to man. Reports of specimens topping 50 feet in length are not uncommon, and the fish is a likely inspiration for tales of sea serpents in centuries past. Oarfish live in tropical and temperate waters worldwide at depths of up to 3,300 feet, drifting in open ocean currents and feeding on fish, crustaceans and squid, but they are almost never seen or caught alive and little is known about their behavior.
Residents of Cabo San Lucas who struggled but failed to save the fish, were shocked to find it swimming in their waters, as were a group of Navy Seals who came upon a 23 foot oarfish during training in Coronado, California in 1996 (below).
Apart from its length, oarfish are also notable for the brilliant red mane which crowns its head as well a dorsal fin that starts between its eyes and runs the length of its body.
They’re the stars of Shark Week, one of the most iconic creatures in the ocean. But how well do you really know the great white shark?
White sharks are known by many names—great white, white pointer, Carcharodon carcharias, even white death. They’re the largest existing predatory fish in the ocean, and they’ve been around for about 16 million years. They’re found in coastal waters in all of the world’s major oceans.
The average great white measures in around 14 feet long (the females are generally a few feet longer than the males). An average individual weighs between 1,500 and 2,400 pounds. The largest white sharks ever measured came in around 20 feet long and weighed nearly 5,000 pounds.
All that size makes these sharks powerful predators. Their bite force is an estimated 1.8 tons—that’s 20 times the bite force of the average human! This powerful bite is coupled with multiple rows of sharp, serrated teeth that help the shark saw off pieces of fish.
Great whites also have an additional sense that allows them to detect the electromagnetic field emitted by the movement of living animals. By searching for these tiny electromagnetic pulses and using their excellent sense of smell, sharks can seek out prey from miles away.
In the social structure of white sharks, females dominate males, and size matters. They resolve conflict through rituals and displays of power, and rarely attack one another. Some sharks have even shown behavior that appears playful!
Great whites have earned a bad reputation as ferocious man-eaters due to movies like Jaws and stories about rogue sharks attacking humans. Truth is, great whites aren’t all that interested in humans. They would rather eat a fish or a seal than a human. While a significant proportion of shark accidents around the world involve white sharks, most are not fatal. Great whites are curious sharks, and will give an unknown object a sample bite, then release it.
These powerful creatures may be at the top of the food chain, but their biggest predator is humans. Only a few hundred great whites are left in the population off the coasts of California and Mexico, and they’re not getting the protection they need. Sign today to help get great whites covered by the Endangered Species Act.