How many animals and plants live in the ocean?

(Please note: This post does not give an exact answer to the question.)

It is comparable to the amount of stars in the sky. Especially if you think that 95% of the world’s oceans are unexplored.

That is why in 2000 a huge census of what lives in the ocean started. The Census of Marine Life brings together more than 2,000 scientists from 82 countries try to answer the question. Every so often a report card of their progress is unveiled to the public – and the latest one was this month. It is great – they are always finding new wacky stuff.

Currently, there are about 230,000 known marine creatures that have gone through the process of becoming legitimately described as “unique”. Since 2003 the Census of Marine Life has discovered more than 5,000 new living creatures – But, 111 have been processed as new and unique creatures! The scientists are making remarkable progress.

Here is a brief list of some of the new wacky stuff they have found:

  • An octopi that lives in the deep-sea – unusual since lacks an ink sack like other octopi – you don’t need to ink in the dark, right?
  • Sea stars and sea spiders larger than a bread box.
  • A completely blind lobster species with very unique antennae used for feeling.
  • A brand new orange and black stripped shrimp that lives off the coast of Africa.

This is a link to the most recent progress report – 24 pages – great pictures!

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How do fish float?

wikifishblutangThere are a few different answers – depending on what type of fish we are asking about.

The most sophisticated types of fishes – bony fishes – have a swim bladder. These fish can inflate their swim bladder with gas from a special gas gland. The gas is basically oxygen from the fish’s blood. Bony fishes that spend most of their lives on the bottom of the ocean floor (e.g., flounder) don’t have a strong swim bladder – therefore, don’t float.

Sharks, skates, and rays are all types of fish. However, these fishes are more primitive – lacking bones. They stay afloat with a liver filled with oil. They use long pectoral fins for balance in mid-waters while maintaining a light framework. The ‘light framework’ is made up of cartilage (the same material found in our nose and ears).

Image (c) (Yellow Tang – a true bony fish)

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Where do seagulls nest?

It is interesting to think that seagulls may want to rest at some point, but they tend to want to re-energize somewhere safe inland (i.e., old boat yards, rock jetties, water towers, etc.) – not necessarily near the dunes or on the beach. Seagulls are full-grown when they leave the nest. They have to be able to survive outside of the nest and as we know, it’s a cruel, cruel world.

How do sea spiders distribute nutrients throughout their bodies?

If anyone has ever come upon a sea spider you immediately think – where are its guts and stuff? huge-sea-spiderThe answer is that their stomach, intestines and reproductive parts are housed within the sea spider’s legs. The animal breathes and manages waste by direct diffusion along the surface of it’s bodies. They can be a foot across – but, most types are barely more than 0.05 of an inch across! They do have a global distribution.

Sea spiders are not in the same exact family as other spiders. However, the sea spiders and terrestrial spiders are in a class together…along with one other creature, Horseshoe Crabs! Yup, horseshoe crabs are more directly related to spiders than other types of crabs.

Image (c)

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Do isopods live in the ocean?

Yes. There are 45,000 different types of marine isopods. Isopods are crustaceans and have a body divided into three parts: head, thorax and abdomen. Actually, isopods are the most diverse of all the types of crustaceans and are unique because they are the most widely distrubed crustacean out there! When in doubt, call it an isopod…

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What is the biggest fish in the sea?

Picture taken at Georgia Aquarium, pictured is...

Image via Wikipedia

The whale shark is the biggest fish on the planet. The largest whale shark measures about 66 feet long and 74,957 pounds.

Not to be confused with the blue whale, a mammal, which is the largest animal on the planet. The largest blue whale measured about 110 feet and up to 400,000 pounds!

The whale shark got its name because the shark’s mouth is shaped just like baleen whales. Baleen whales and whale sharks both munch on krill. For being the largest fish in the sea the whale shark is surprisingly affable to divers and known as a relaxed fish.

How are ‘whale sharks’ and ‘whales’ different?

Whales are mammals, just like people, and must breathe air. Dolphins, seals, porpoises, otters (and some people say, polar bears) are mammals that live in the ocean (ie., marine mammals).

Another difference is that mammals raise their young. Whale sharks give live birth like mammals, but, move on right after and don’t raise them. Most other fish do lay eggs.

Fish also have gills to breathe underwater, unlike mammals that must come up to the surface of the ocean and breathe air.

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How do sea stars eat?

StarfishFirst, sea stars grip their prey (e.g., bivalves, such as clams and oysters) with their suction feet and pry them apart to eat the muscle inside the shells. Then, once the bivalve’s shell is open, the stomach of the sea star emerges from the middle of the underside of its star-shaped body to absorb the delicious entrée inside itself. After this happens, the animal is full and not going anywhere soon (e.g., me after Thanksgiving dinner).

A sea star is another common name for starfish. Scientists, and the likes of me, are on a campaign to get people to refer to this echinoderm as the ‘sea star’ instead of a starfish. Since, well, they simply are not fish. Similarly, jellies are not called jellyfish anymore.

Check out this video from the Monterey Bay Aquarium of a sea star chowing down!

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What are those yellow looking things that look like a floppy spinal cord?

The strand of half dollar sized pods is an egg case. Actually each pod has about twenty tiny animals in each pod.knobbed_whelk_with_egg_-case_100_2886

The tiny animal that will grow from this egg case is the knobbed whelk. This is basically a northeast version of a conch (pronounced conk). If you hold the tiny discs up to the sunlight you can see the tiny versions of the whelk developing.

The whelk is a mollusk (like clams and oysters) but only has one shell. This shell grows with the whelk as it gets older – as opposed to the hermit crab which moves out as it gets bigger.

Also, if you hold the whelk shell up to your ear you can hear the ocean. Lastly, do not hold up a whelk shell to your ear if it has a tough protective “door” covering its opening. That’s the mantle and means that an animal inhabits the shell. Please place it right back where you found it.

Image (c) Jo O’Keefe.


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How does an oyster make a pearl?

Chargrilled oysters

Image via Wikipedia

Oysters are another bivalve animal. In the case of all bivalves, the part of the animal that lines the shell is known as the nacre and the part of the animal that make up the outer shell is known as the mantle. A pearl is created rather by accident when something foreign gets stuck inside the mantle, thus the nacre builds up to protect the animal. This build up is known as the pearl.

Oysters, mussels, and clams all make pearls. However, they are most often seen in oysters. My theory is that the oyster shells are typically not as uniform in shape as clams and mussels and tend to grow according to their surroundings, making it easier for foreign junk to accumulate.

Are flounder born flat?

They hatch from the egg looking exactly like typical fish, swimming in the upper waters. After two weeks the bridge of the fish’s nose fades away and then one of the eyes, depending on the species, shifts to one side. The process of becoming a complete “flat” fish takes a bit of time, but, once complete the flounder is content to live the rest of its life on its side on the bottom of the ocean floor.

Winter flounder move their left eye to the right side. Summer flounder move their right eye to the left side. There are many more flounder species, but, this is just an example of where their eyes shift.

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