Four Marine Animals You Might Not Know Exist
Meghan Marrero
Dr. Meghan Marrero
Professor of Science Education
and President-elect, National Marine Educators Association
Dr. Nermeen Dashoush, PhD
Clinical Assistant Professor of Early Childhood Education
and Chief Curriculum Officer for MarcoPolo World School

World Oceans Day is June 8th - time to celebrate our Blue Planet’s largest feature! While we commonly say ‘oceans,’ all of Earth’s ocean basins (the Atlantic, Pacific, Indian, Southern, and Arctic) are connected, forming one world ocean. Over the course of a thousand years or so, a drop of ocean water can circulate through the basins, plunging from the icy waters of the Arctic to the crushing depths of the Atlantic, being tossed about by the enormous waves of the Southern Ocean, and floating among the serene azure seas of the tropical Indian and Pacific.

The ocean covers 71% of Earth’s surface, and most of the living space on the planet, yet still houses incredible mysteries. We know more about the surface of Mars than we do about our own seafloor! New species are constantly being discovered, and new technologies invented to better find, identify, and protect them. Here are four ocean animals that you may not have heard of:

Coconut Octopus

This crafty cephalopod has a clever way of protecting itself. It hides inside coconut shells! In the open water, there are not a lot of places for the coconut octopus to hide from predators. The coconut octopus uses its tentacles to gather empty coconuts and other shells that have fallen into the water. The octopus then buries itself in the sand and uses the shells as covers. Inside the safety of its coconut armor, the coconut octopus peeks out to keep an eye out for danger.

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Basking Shark

Open wide! The basking shark is easily distinguishable by its huge open mouth. The second largest fish in the sea, this shark is not a predator and does not use its teeth. The basking shark opens its mouth to catch whatever small fish or plankton happen to be in its path. These strange sharks have even been seen rubbing their bodies on rocks. Scientists believe this is one of the ways they get rid of parasites!

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Ocean Sunfish

Often seen swimming near the surface of the ocean, these strange flat fish are remarkable in many ways. Also known as the Mola Mola, the ocean sunfish is the heaviest bony fish in the ocean. The sunfish is almost completely round and flat. This unusual fish even looks like it has a bird-like beak because its teeth are fused together, making it unable to close its mouth. A Mola Mola’s back (caudal) fin doesn’t grow, and so it mostly relies on its pectoral and dorsal fins for swimming. It swims towards the bottom of the ocean to munch on jellyfish and rises to the top so that birds can feed on the parasites stuck to its body. Although unknown to some people, the sunfish lays the most eggs out of any fish in the ocean, at 300 million eggs yearly!

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Leafy Sea Dragon

Does that seagrass have eyes? That’s not a plant - it’s a leafy sea dragon! These creatures may look like seaweed, but they are actually fish related to pipefish and seahorses. Sea dragons’ plant-like look allows them to camouflage in with seagrasses and algae. Since they are sluggish swimmers, blending in with their surroundings is the best defense against predators on the rocky reefs they inhabit. As sea dragons slowly swim along, they use their straw-like mouths to create enough suction to slurp up tiny crustaceans, such as baby shrimp and crabs. Like their seahorse cousins, male leafy sea dragons keep the eggs safe, carrying them beneath their tail until they hatch.

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