Ocean Animals

The oceans teem with both animal and plant life, some very familiar, some strange.

Cetaceans (whales and dolphins) along with Pinnipeds (seals and sea lions) represent two of the most familiar orders of ocean animals often seen close to shore. News accounts regarding the environmental stresses they face continue, meaning most people have at least a vague awareness that many species are , according to the terms of the Endangered Species Act, either threatened or endangered. Along with the concerted conservation efforts undertaken to help improve Cetaean and Pinniped and other ocean animal population levels, the use of tools such as the Packwood-Magnuson Amendment to the Fishery Conservation and Management Act of 1976, that imposes trade measures on countries diminishing the effectiveness of international fisheries conservation, also contribute to the effort.

The section on marine mammals and other ocean animals outlined by the links in the box, provides more detailed information about their current status.

The inter-tidal zone, another phrase that means close to shore, refers to the area between the ocean and the land that regularly reveals itself as the twice daily tide moves to and from the shoreline. It also provides a home to many interesting ocean animals.

The types of ocean animals present in the inter-tidal zone in any give place, often depends on the type of inter-tidal zone in question, rocky or sandy. Sand dollars, for example, are found along sandy beaches at low tide, while chiton are typically found on rocky beaches along the rocky inter-tidal zone.

Most of the ocean animals listed here are found close to shore and in the inter-tidal zone, as well as throughout the oceans.

Using the more scientific term of phylum (large groups of animals organized by physical similarities), the animals here represent five of the most common ocean animal phyla:

  • Phylum: Mollusca - Mollusks (shelled and without shells)
  • Phylum Echinodermata - Echinoderms (Sea Cucumbers, Sea Stars, Sea Urchins, Sand Dollars)
  • Phylum Arthropoda - Anthropods (Lobsters, Crabs and Shrimp)
  • Phylum Chordata - Chordates (Seahorse and the Marine Mammals)
  • Phylum Cnidaria - Cnidarians (Jellyfish and Sea Anemone)

The slide gallery shows a few pictures of the ocean animals covered in this section.

Because phyla are very large groupings of animals, many contain both water and land species. Arthropods, for example, are a large group of hard-shelled animals that consists of many smaller groups such as the order of ten legged creatures (decopods) such as crabs, as well as the whole class (Insecta) of six legged animals known as insects.

Likewise, many of the mollusks that we know more commonly as snails, come in both water and land forms.

Coral Reefs

With reference to ocean animals, coral reefs brings to mind both simple and complex identity concepts.

At their simplest form, coral reefs develop as large ocean organisms or colonies, consisting of many like animals that typically get associated with shallow water environments along the world's coastlines. While no part of the description is factually wrong, coral reef specialists tell us it is incomplete.

Corals, like most living things, come in a variety of shapes and inhabit a variety of ocean locations. In fact, both hard and soft bodies corals live in both shallow and deep water environments.

Shallow water coral reefs such as the world's largest, Australia's Great Barrier Reef, and the close to home reefs off the coast of Florida, fall into the group of hard bodied, shallow water reefs.

Hard bodied corals, formally placed in the order Scleractinia, often receive nicknames for the appearance of their colonization efforts. Scuba divers, for example, come to know corals by names such as brain corals, table corals, tube corals and elkhorn corals.

Shallow water coral reefs also get identified as complex ecosystems that support a biologically diverse community, from the individual coral polyps of any particular part of the reef, to the fish and humans that rely on them for their survival.

Scientists continue to express concern regarding the effects of a changing climate on the world's near shore reefs.

Ocean acidification, the process where the near shore environment becomes more acidic due to the ocean's absorption of increasing amounts of carbon dioxide, presents a life threatening challenge to coral reefs. The logic is simple, the calcium carbonate necessary for hard bodied corals to grow gets dissolved in the presence of increased ocean acidity, which in turn stunts coral growth. Increases in ocean acidity also creates pressure on standing corals.

A changing climate also contributes to changes in water temperatures, posing even more threats to coral reefs, whose organisms have evolved to live within specific temperature ranges.

Deep Sea Creatures

Well before the time of Percy Jackson and The Sea of Monsters, or Jules Verne writing about life 20000 Leagues Under the Sea, humans had an interest in the life forms that called the ocean home.

It's often the case that the realm of the unknown kicks the imagination into high gear. So it is with the ocean's animals living in a deep sea environment.

Changing technology continues to see the creation of smaller ocean going vessels capable of documenting life on the ocean floor.

The ocean discoveries of the past fifty years run the gamut of ordinary to dramatic. On the ordinary side, for example, many of the deep-sea creatures documented, resemble the animals found near shore, such as limpets, anemone, octopus. squat lobsters and more.

According to NOAA, 95% of the ocean remains unexplored, so the possibility of discovering dramatic sea monster-like creatures remains a possibility.

While the ocean animals section focuses on a variety of coastal animals, it's worth noting that even the diversity of coastal life barely scratches the surface of the diversity in the remainder of the world's oceans.

© 2001-2014 Patricia A. Michaels