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Tales from the tide pool

Dumbo octopus - NOAA Ocean Explorer
Dumbo octopus
— image credit: NOAA Ocean Explorer

The ocean is filled with all sorts of wild, wacky and wonderful creatures. There are animals that don’t even appear to be animals, like the magnificent and beautiful glass sponges, to which BC is home to the only living reefs. There are animals that are little more then gelatinous blobs, and are literally named blob fish. And animals that really have a face only a mother could love.

Despite the strange, weird and maybe even “ugly” ocean creatures, some marine animals are just so darn cute. When I say cute, I’m not talking about the charismatic dolphins, sea otters and polar bears. Yes, they are absolutely adorable and almost snuggable, but everybody knows those animals. The cute animals I’m going to share are the underdogs, the less noticed and the ones right in our ocean-backyards.

First up on the eligible cute list is the Hermit Crab. Many people have probably seen a Hermit Crab scrambling along the rocky shore or maybe even felt their sharp little legs tickle your hand as they gain the courage to walk along your skin.

These timid little creatures have the cutest black eyes and a rather small body to shell ratio, almost making them look like they will fall over. However, hermit crabs do outgrow their shells and go on long adventures to find their next perfect home. The shells they acquire are from marine gastropods (snails) and thus come in all sorts of colours and sizes, but there can be steep competition to find the best one with other crabs ready to upgrade. The next time you’re at the beach, watch and wait quietly to see if any of the shells begin to scurry around, and you might just see a Hermit Crab. The next time you think about taking a shell from the beach, remember that shell could just be their next perfect home.

Eligible bachelor number two is the Grunt Sculpin, named for the wheezing sound they make when removed from the water. These little fish only grow between two and three inches in length and are primarily all head. About 60 per cent of its body length is made up by its unusually large, rounded head and its fairly long snout. Unlike most other fish, Grunt Sculpin do not have any scales, instead, they have small plates and several short spines. They come in several different colours  – creams, black, oranges and browns – and have a mottled and streaked appearance. Grunt Sculpins like to find shelter and hide out in large empty barnacle shells; with only their snouts protruding, they are easily camouflaged. Grunt Sculpins are awkward swimmers, so rather than searching for them in the water column, look for them crawling, hopping or jumping along the seafloor, using their finger-like pectoral fins for help.

The third cutie on my list is the Dumbo Octopus. Although this critter lives in deeper (300+ metre) waters around the world, including off the coast of BC, it just can’t be ignored. Named for its elephant-like ears (actually fins), the 20 centimetre long octopus is extremely charming, but is not well understood. Although the Dumbo Octopus is typically benthic (lives on the seafloor), this little octopus can hover above the seafloor looking for food, by pulsing its webbed arms, moving its fins, or jet propelling.

Last, but not least, the fourth cutie on my list is my absolute favourite, the Pacific Spiny Lumpsucker. The best way I can think of to describe a lumpsucker is a gumball with fins. These wonderfully adorable fish are relatively small and have protruding eyes and very short fins. In fact, their pelvic fins have evolved into adhesive disks on their tummy (ventral side), allowing the fish to adhere to various types of substrate. With such small fins compared to their bodies, lumpsuckers have a hard time swimming and stop often for rests, using their suckers to stay in position. Pacific Spiny Lumpsuckers come in several colours from grey to yellow to orange to purple and are covered with wart-like bumps, called tubercles. The next time you’re tide-pooling or diving keep an eye out for one of BC’s cutest fish – the swimming gumball.

All of the ocean’s creatures serve a purpose and help contribute to the amazing diversity around the world. While the charismatic animals are stunning and majestic, don’t forget about the underdogs, they are beautiful in their own way. What ocean-dwelling animal do you think is cutest?

Combining her passions for education and the marine ecosystem Natasha Ewing inspires K-12 teachers and students to incorporate hands-on experiential ocean science into the classroom for Ocean Networks Canada.

If you have a question or comment for Natasha email editor@oakbaynews.com.

 

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