Step into the sea and you’re soon in a fantastical world, where see-through jellyfish float by like ghosts, fish watch you without blinking, and huge creatures swim serenely through the deep. Scientists think there has been life in the oceans for 3.5 billion years, and it still thrives there today, scuttling along the bottom or swimming at the sunlit surface, in the chilly darkness of the midnight zone, or down in the lightless abyss. Scientists have discovered more than 226,000 sea animal species, and there are many still unknown. Read on to discover six incredible sea animals, from the familiar to the brilliantly strange.
For many people, sea turtles are a source of inspiration and joy. Gliding elegantly through the ocean but returning dutifully to land to dig nests, they’ve appealed to seafaring cultures since the dawn of humanity. Earth’s oceans are home to seven species of sea turtles, each of which has a different appearance and habits. Found in every ocean except the Arctic and Antarctic, they spend most of the time in the water and only come on land to lay their eggs on beaches.
Sea turtles have been around for over 100 million years, long enough that they once shared the world with dinosaurs! Instead of the front legs and webbed back feet of land turtles, sea turtles have flippers that enable them to easily navigate the water, making some species accomplished world travelers. Leatherback turtles have been known to migrate 10,000 miles in a year, almost halfway around the world! Sea turtles can also dive up to thousands of feet and sleep underwater by absorbing oxygen through their cloaca.
Sea otters, known for their impish playfulness, adorable pups, and use of rocks to break open their food, live in the Pacific Ocean. Three subspecies of them live along the ocean’s coasts, from California to Russia and Japan. They have long, sleek bodies and very thick hair—around 40 times more on one square inch of their bodies than most humans have on their whole head! All that hair helps insulate them from cold water.
When feeding, sea otters dive to the ocean floor to find urchins and other shellfish. Then they pull them to the surface and float on their backs to eat them. Because they eat urchins, which can destroy all other sea life in their habitats, sea otters are essential guardians of the ecosystems they live in.
Sea otters do occasionally rest on land, but they prefer the ocean so much that they usually sleep there. Groups of sea otters sleep together on their backs, holding on to one another so they don’t float away. These groups can get big—up to 1,000 otters at once!
Orcas, despite being known as killer whales, are actually dolphins! There are three types of them: resident, transient, and offshore. Resident orcas live near the shore and eat fish. Transient orcas stay on the move and eat larger prey. And offshore orcas live in the open ocean and eat creatures found there.
All three types of orcas live and hunt in family groups called pods, working together to catch prey ranging from fish and sharks to whales. Orcas are so social that each pod develops its own language of clicks, whistles, and calls over time.
Pods also develop unique hunting techniques. Some groups of orcas in the Pacific surge onto the beach to surprise the seals they eat. Others team up to hunt dangerous predators like the great white shark and seven-gilled shark. These hunting methods, passed from generation to generation alongside language, form a sort of culture that distinguishes each orca pod.
Blue whales are the biggest creatures in the sea by far. They can grow up to almost 100 feet long and weigh close to 200 tons. That’s as long as three school buses and as heavy as a house! Their hearts are as big as cars, some of their blood vessels are so wide a kid could crawl through them, and even their newborn calves are bigger than a pickup truck. Blue whales aren’t just the largest animals alive today, they’re the largest animals that have ever lived. They’re even bigger than the dinosaurs were!
Blue whales live in every ocean but the Arctic, and there are five subspecies of them, some bigger than others. Creatures of the open ocean, they’re rarely seen near shores and there aren’t very many of them, which makes them difficult for scientists to study. Because they’re so large, they don’t have many natural predators—they can usually escape even a pod of orcas!
Blue whales survive by eating some of the ocean’s smallest animals: tiny shrimp called krill. To feed, blue whales open their huge mouths and take in up to 100 tons of krill and water mixed together. They then close their mouths and force the water out through big plates in their mouths called baleen. The krill are left behind for the whale to swallow. An adult blue whale eats as much as 7,900 pounds of krill every day.
Whale sharks are unusual creatures. While blue whales are the oceans’ largest animal, whale sharks are their largest fish. They have gills to breathe through, and their fins look like a shark’s. But they’re much bigger than other sharks, and they eat like the biggest whales do—by opening their mouths wide and taking in lots of water!
Inside their mouths, special tissue in their gills traps prey like krill, plankton, and small fish. Then they push the water out and close their mouths to swallow. Although whale sharks have hundreds of rows of teeth, they don’t chew their food. This means that like blue whales, scientists classify them as filter feeders.
Whale sharks live in warm waters all over the world, and they live for a long time! Their lifespan is similar to a human’s, with the oldest living to be over 100. They also have a pattern of white spots unique to each individual. Scientists use these patterns to tell them apart, sometimes with computer programs designed to identify patterns in the stars.
Also known as the mola, the ocean sunfish is very different from the freshwater fish that share its name. For starters, the ocean sunfish is big—up to 11 feet long and 5,000 pounds—and flat. Its scientific name (mola mola) comes from the Latin word for “millstone,” which a Swedish scientist compared it to.
Unlike both the blue whale and whale shark, which emerge live from their mothers, the ocean sunfish starts its life as a tiny egg. For a while it’s protected by a spiky, starlike covering that makes it look a little like the puffer fish it evolved from. Those spikes disappear as it grows, however. At full size, ocean sunfish have fused teeth perfect for eating jellyfish (their favorite snack), and two huge fins they use to swim instead of relying on a tail.
Curious how sunfish got their name? They attract a lot of tiny creatures called parasites that live on their skin. To deal with that, they float up to the ocean surface and “sun” themselves, lying flat and letting ocean birds pluck things off their slimy bodies. Yuck!
Hungry for fun activities to help kids learn more about the animals of the sea? Check out our kelp forest fingerprint critters, or take a deep dive into the Pacific with our Animals Wild subscription.
1. Whale sharks are not whales, they are sharks. Although these huge sea creatures are called 'whale sharks', they are not actually whales, but filter-feeding sharks, often referred to as "gentle giants". They are also the world's largest fish, growing up to 12 metres long.Why are whales important? ›
Whales are at the top of the food chain and have an important role in the overall health of the marine environment. Whales play a significant role in capturing carbon from the atmosphere; each great whale sequesters an estimated 33 tons of CO2 on average, thus playing their part in the fight against climate change.How do whales help the environment? ›
They play a vital role in the health of the oceans where they help provide up to 50% of our oxygen, combat climate change and sustain fish stocks. The way that whales feed, poo, migrate, and dive between the surface and the ocean depths (known as the 'whale pump'), circulates essential nutrients throughout the ocean.Where does the blue whale live? ›
Blue whales are found in all oceans except the Arctic. They generally migrate seasonally between summer feeding grounds and winter breeding grounds, but some evidence suggests that individuals in certain areas might not migrate at all.Are whales friendly? ›
As a species, whales are generally non-violent and do not display aggressive behaviors towards humans; however, in situations where a whale may feel threatened or frightened, it may defend itself by attacking what it thinks is a potential threat.How big was a Megalodon? ›
megalodon was not only the biggest shark in the world, but one of the largest fish ever to exist. Estimates suggest it grew to between 15 and 18 metres in length, three times longer than the largest recorded great white shark.Why are whales so smart? ›
Whale and dolphin brains contain specialized brain cells called spindle neurons. These are associated with advanced abilities such as recognising, remembering, reasoning, communicating, perceiving, adapting to change, problem-solving and understanding. So it seems they are deep thinkers!What do whales teach us? ›
They have personalities and celebrate their identity. Some whale species give their calves names and greet each other when they meet. They show love, empathy, and grief. Family is immensely important to them.Do whales clean the ocean? ›
In addition to the carbon dioxide that whales capture in their bodies and store deep in the ocean when they die, they also fertilize the ocean with their feces and urine, leading to large phytoplankton blooms.What if whales went extinct? ›
Phytoplankton and the single-celled variety that krill eat are responsible for absorbing a massive amount of carbon from the atmosphere. In the absence of whales, krill would likely eat much of the free-floating phytoplankton on the ocean's surface, resulting in a marked acceleration in climate change.
Scientists have called large whales “ecosystem engineers.” Research has shown that whales cycle nutrients in the ocean, help create the oxygen we breathe, and play a critical role in mitigating greenhouse gases. Not only breathtaking, whales are also breath-giving.What do whales do for fun? ›
Most species of whale are known to spend their time doing a variety of activities including foraging, migrating, mating, socializing, sleeping and exploring.What eats a blue whale? ›
The killer whale is one of the only predators of the blue whale. However, only certain populations of this species include whales in their diets, which, just like their hunting techniques, vary from one population to another. Like a pack of wolves, killer whales work in coordinated teams when pursuing their prey.How do whales sleep? ›
There are some common methods and positions for sleeping. These include simply resting quietly in the water, either horizontally or vertically, or sleeping while slowly swimming next to another member of their pod or in small groups.How many blue whale is left? ›
How Many Blue Whales Are Left? Sadly, there are only about 10,000 to 25,000 blue whales left in the world today. Though it may sound like a large number, this is incredibly low.Do whales fall in love? ›
And now we know that the great whales of the world are capable of loving. A remarkable new study will reveal that whales - hunted for centuries by man, and lauded in ancient literature for their mystical qualities - have the ability to experience love and also deep-rooted emotional suffering.Has a whale ever attacked a ship? ›
While an accidental collision with a sperm whale at night accounted for sinking of the Union in 1807, the Essex incident some 30 years beforehand was the only other documented case of a whale deliberately attacking, holing, and sinking a ship.What to do if a shark bumps you? ›
- If bitten, try to stop the bleeding before leaving the water by applying pressure.
- Leave the water as quickly and calmly as possible.
- Get immediate medical attention, no matter how small the injury.
This means picking up a small tooth with some damage for under 20 dollars is possible. However, depending on factors including size, condition, color, and where it came from, collectors or natural history museum-quality megalodon teeth are much rarer and their price ranges from $5,000 or even $10,000.How did megalodon go extinct? ›
First, the climate dramatically changed. Global water temperature dropped; that reduced the area where megalodon, a warm-water shark, could thrive. Second, because of the changing climate, entire species that megalodon preyed upon vanished forever.
The great apes are considered the smartest creatures after humans. Of course, humans are biased in this regard, but the intellectual capacity of the great apes is difficult to deny. After all, we share over 96 percent of the same DNA. Orangutans stand out as being especially gifted in the brains department.Do whales feel pain? ›
Whales can feel pain, fear and distress. Animals that have this ability are called 'sentient'. Did you know? At 16,000km, humpback whales undertake the longest annual migration of any mammal from their cold water feeling grounds to warmer tropical waters to breed and give birth.What is the IQ of a dolphin? ›
Humans have the highest EQ at 7.4, but bottlenose dolphins have EQs of 5.3, significantly higher than all other animals.Why do whales hug? ›
"Researchers saw what appeared to be whales hugging with their flippers, technically described as 'belly to belly:' perhaps showing affection and attempts at mating," the research team said in a statement.Why are GREY whales so friendly? ›
Gray whales are known to be very curious and inquisitive, giving them reputation of being the “friendly” whale. They often swim right up to boats and poke their heads vertically out of the water to get a better view of their surroundings in a behavior called spyhopping.Do orcas have emotions? ›
According to the neuroscientist Lori Marino: “It is a very, very interesting part of the brain.” Many scientists and trainers have observed for a long-time complex emotions in orcas, and they also have powerful empathy for each other and for humans. Orcas present the most elaborated insular cortex in the world.Can you touch a whale in the ocean? ›
You Should Never Touch a Whale
You might get hurt or sick. Whales may scratch, bite, or thrash their tails, placing you in danger. Whales can also transmit a specific disease called brucellosis.
The arteries are so large, in fact, that a full-size human could swim through them. The aorta alone measures in at over 9 inches! The blue whale's heart can weigh more than 400 lbs.
Their mouths are big enough to hold a human. If they dive with you in there, you could suffocate. A lobster diver that found himself in a whale's mouthOpens in new tab survived because he had scuba equipment to help him breathe. Two kayakers also ended up in a whale's mouthOpens in new tab.Has a whale ever saved a human? ›
Marine biologist Nan Hauser was lifted by the 22 tonne whale's head totally out of the water to save her from the 15 foot tiger shark.
The descent. Decay sets in soon after the death of a whale, as the insides begin to decompose. The animal then expands with gas and sometimes floats up to the ocean's surface, where it can be scavenged by sharks and seabirds.Do whales grieve? ›
Scientists have now observed seven species of whales and dolphins mourn their dead pod mates and relatives in their own ways.Do whales come up for air while sleeping? ›
Whales choose to come up to the surface to breath in the same way that we make a conscious decision to eat so that we don't starve! Unlike humans who continue to breath even when they're in a deep sleep, cetaceans must remain partially awake in order to maintain a state of alertness to control their breathing.How much blood does a whale have? ›
Weighing some 900kg – and the size of a Mini car – the blue whale's heart beats once every 10 seconds, pumping 220 litres of blood through its body, and beats so loudly it can be heard from 3km away through sonar equipment.Do whales forget to breathe? ›
Whales and dolphins are conscious breathers – they have to actively decide when to breathe, which can seem tricky for an animal that spends all of its time underwater!Do whales like being pet? ›
Whales in general are very tactile, Swartz says: “They love to rub and touch.Why does a whale slap its tail? ›
There are a few reasons whales tail slap but the main reason is to warn off predation or over bearing males &/or females. It is a defensive action and depending upon the energy in the tail slap generally indicates what the communication is all about.Do whales mate for life? ›
The short answer is no, Humpback Whales do not mate for life but instead look for a new mate every breeding season. A female Humpback Whale will usually have one calf every 2-3 years and when it is time to fall pregnant she will be on the lookout for the most suitable male to be the father of her next calf.Can a shark defeat a blue whale? ›
At up to 30 metres long and weighing over 100 tonnes, a blue whale easily outsizes a white shark, which can measure perhaps over 6m and weigh less than a tonne. But the blue whale didn't get so big from killing and eating other large animals such as sharks.What kills a killer whale? ›
Killer whales are apex predators, which means they have no natural predators.
Because of their size, power and speed, adult blue whales have virtually no natural ocean predators. The only sea creature known to attack blue whales is the orca whale (scientific name: Orcinus orca) also known as the “killer whale”. They have been known to work in groups to attack blue whales.Do whales dream? ›
It is not clear whether cetaceans undergo dream sleep. Rapid Eye Movement (REM)--a characteristic of deep sleep--is hard to discern. But a pilot whale was noted as having six minutes of REM in a single night.Do whales feel cold? ›
Their skin is innervated with temperature-sensing nerve cells just as is the skin of any mammal. * They certainly have the ability to sense temperature, but how that translates to what they feel [whether they experience discomfort, for example] is a hard question to answer.Why do whales jump out of the water? ›
Air is 800 times less dense than water and so a jump gives the Killer Whale a good advance on its prey. This high-speed leap is known as porpoising and even once the feeding event is over, jumping can take place as a social form of celebration.Is there only 1 blue whale? ›
Conservation. The global blue whale population is estimated to be 5,000–15,000 mature individuals and 10,000-25,000 total as of 2018. By comparison, there were at least 140,000 mature whales in 1926.Is there only one whale 52? ›
Still, its call is the only one of its kind detected anywhere and there is only one such source per season. Because of this, the animal has been called the loneliest whale in the world. Calls picked up by a sensor in 2010 suggest that there may be more than one whale calling at 52 Hz.Has a blue whale ever washed up? ›
Measuring 60ft (18.2m) long, the Antarctic blue whale drifted ashore in Namibia, 5,000 miles from its traditional feeding grounds, after it was mortally wounded in a suspected collision with a ship.Why is a whale shark not a whale? ›
A whale shark is a fish and breathes via its gills. The name whale shark comes from the fact these animals are so large (as big as whales) and that they filter feed (like baleen whales such as the humpback). However, they have cartilage instead of bone – making them a true shark.Why is whale shark called whale? ›
The whale shark (Rhincodon typus) earns the name “whale” solely because of its size. Just as the blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus) is the largest living mammal*, the whale shark is the largest species of any fish, known to reach more than 40 feet in length.What is the difference between a whale and a whale shark? ›
Although blue whales are massive, whale sharks aren't anything to scoff at either. Blue whales hold the record for being the largest animals ever, but whale sharks are the largest fish species to live. The largest whale sharks on record reached 61.7 feet and weighed over 41,000 pounds.
Whale sharks (Rhincodon typus) are the largest shark, and indeed largest of any fishes alive today. They feed on plankton and travel large distances to find enough food to sustain their huge size, and to reproduce. Whale sharks are found in all the tropical oceans of the world.Why can't you touch a whale shark? ›
Touching whale sharks can disturb the protective mucous layer on their skin – and it can also have unpleasant consequences for you or me. The tiny, tooth-like scales (known as dermal denticles) that cover the skin of most shark species can cause a painful graze known as "shark burn".Has a whale ever eaten a shark? ›
Killer whales may be the more dominant predator, but it is rare that they will kill and eat a great white shark, though it can happen sometimes.Do sharks have tongues? ›
Yes, sharks have a tongue, and it is referred to as a “basihyal” rather than a tongue. A shark's tongue cannot move in the same way that a human tongue can since it is not a muscle. The bottom of a shark's mouth contains this little thick chunk of cartilage, and it doesn't have any taste buds or perform any functions.Do sharks lay eggs? ›
These help to protect and provide for offspring as they develop. There are over 500 species of shark living in waters around the world and the majority give birth to live young. The remainder are oviparous, meaning they lay eggs.Why is a whale called sperm? ›
They are named after the waxy substance—spermaceti—found in their heads. The spermaceti is an oil sac that helps the whales focus sound. Spermaceti was used in oil lamps, lubricants, and candles.Who is the biggest fish in the world? ›
The biggest fish in the ocean is the Rhincodon typus or whale shark.Who is the king of the ocean? ›
But the true ruler of the sea is the killer whale. Killer whales are apex predators, which means they have no natural predators. They hunt in packs, much like wolves, which are also at the top of their food chain.Can a shark hurt a whale? ›
While such observations of sharks attacking whales are few, we know it does occur. The scars many whales bear throughout their lives resulting from shark attacks are more than sufficient evidence sharks will have a go if an opportunity arises.Who would win a shark or a killer whale? ›
Both the great white shark and the killer whale or orca are fearsome top predators. But of the two massive animals, the killer whale may be the more formidable one, a new study has found.
The most famous prehistoric shark, Carcharocles megalodon, nicknamed megalodon or megatooth, ruled the seas from about 17 million years ago up to almost three million years ago. The colossal predator reached lengths up to 60 feet, stretching as long as a boxcar.
|#1||Whale Shark||21.5 tons, 41.5 feet|
|#2||Basking Shark||4.2 tons, 40.3 feet|
|#3||Great White Shark||3.34 tons, 23 feet|
|#4||Tiger Shark||3.11 tons, 24 feet|
The basking shark is the second largest fish in the world, and like the largest fish (the whale shark) and the largest animal (the great whales), basking sharks are filter feeders that eat tiny, planktonic prey.