If you need any proof of the wonderful diversity of nature, you only need look as far as the obscure corners of the ocean to find it. And when I say “wonderful diversity” I mean, weirdness. There are some terrifying creatures that live down there and some that are just a bit unfortunate looking. It’s no wonder that they live miles below the surface – they probably don’t want anyone to see them. Others have amazing skills that you’d never imagine anyone would need. Yes, sea creatures are a crazy lot indeed. Meet the most bizarre of the bunch in our Top 10 Strangest Sea Creatures.
If you happen to believe in reincarnation, it’s hard to imagine what you’d have to have done in a past life in order to come back as a blobfish. It’s not a fulfilling life. They can’t really move, so they just have to sit around and wait for food to come to them. It can take days to get a meal and then it’s over in a bite. And it’s not like they can spend the rest of the time gazing at themselves in a mirror either – the blobfish is modeled after a dessert of some kind, maybe one that’s a bit melted. Stick some eyes on a blancmange and you’ll get a similar effect. They aren’t often seen by humans, living as they do 600-1,200m below sea level, off the coast of Australia.
9. Angler Fish
And another fish that’s been beaten with the ugly stick. The angler fish is a scary-looking beast that appears every time an animator needs a “fish that looks like a monster” scene (see “Finding Nemo”). It lives in the midnight zone, and like many creatures down there it has its own integral light. In this case, it’s a small bulb-like light that dangles in front of its face so it can see whatever it’s hunting. If you ever get stuck in the midnight zone, remember not to follow the light…or you might be its next meal. It can swallow prey that is up to twice its size. And did I mention the razor-sharp teeth? Terrifying…
8. Christmas Tree Worm
Of course, not all these creatures are scary. Some are cute, albeit it in a toilet brush kind of way. The Christmas tree worms get their name from their spikes, which point out like the branches of a Christmas tree and help them to feed and breathe. If the worm feels threatened, the “branches” withdraw and it makes them less obvious to predators. Known as Spirobranchus giganteus, they are found on the Great Barrier Reef but have also been spotted as far away as the Caribbean.
7. Sea Krait
If, like me, you get a bit scared at the very idea of a snake you might think that the ocean would be one place you’d be sure not to bump into any. But you’d be wrong, as the sea krait – or Chinese sea snake – lurks around coral reefs, waiting to catch any unsuspecting prey with its paralyzing venom. That’s the venom which is 10 times the strength of cobra venom, in case you’re still thinking these things might be harmless. They also come onto land, for females to lay their eggs, but mainly live just off-shore in caves or rock formations. However, they are oxygen-breathing, so have to break the surface every few hours in order to survive.
So, they can follow you onto land if you manage to outswim them (they don’t swim very fast, so that at least is a possibility). The good news is that they don’t tend to attack humans unless they feel threatened, and their black-and-white patterning makes them easy to spot. Just don’t threaten them. Probably best to stay away from their eggs!
The pufferfish is another creature that’s popular with children’s TV series, as the makers of those shows seem to be under the impression that you can use them as a replacement for balloons when needed. I wouldn’t advise it. Yes, the pufferfish does blow up, but its spikes when it does so are sharp, and the puffer itself is highly poisonous. In fact, it’s the second most poisonous vertebrate in the world, after the golden poison frog.
That doesn’t stop pufferfish from being a delicacy in many countries, most notably Japan. It has to be prepared by expert chefs, as a wrongly cut fish can be lethal. Puffer soup – or fugu chiri in Japanese – is the most common form of puffer poisoning but the raw meat (sashimi fugu) can induce a kind of intoxicated state, along with numbness. That’s the main appeal of it, apparently, but if that’s what you’re after, you’re probably best off sticking with the sake and avoiding these spiny beasts altogether.
5. Snot Sea Cucumber
It’s not a pretty name, is it? And not a pretty creature either. But the snot sea cucumber has a remarkable party trick – its outer wall is made up of a type of collagen that they can tighten and loosen when needed. So, if it needs to get through a tiny gap it can basically liquefy itself, pour through the gap and then reassemble on the other side. Nifty, hey?
The other trick that some sea cucumbers pull is to go into a type of hibernation if the water temperature gets too high, where their bodily functions shut down until the temperature returns to normal. Some other varieties can shoot out toxins to defend themselves against predators. These slimy creatures, who are found all over the world in different varieties, may not be beautiful but they are certainly clever.
4. Giant Spider Crab
Combine two scary things – crabs and spiders – and you have the spider crab. Now, make it giant. It’s the stuff of nightmares, isn’t it? A spider, that’s 3.8m wide, with pincers. Fortunately, for arachnophobes it’s not a spider at all, but sadly for arthopodphobes, it is entirely crab. Found in the seas around Japan, it can weigh up to 19kg – around the weight of a 4-year-old human child. It lives in fairly shallow waters, but can be found in depths of up to 600m. Again, it is a delicacy in Japan but fishermen only tend to catch the smaller ones. Maybe even they are terrified of the ones that look like they could eat you alive…
3. Leafy Sea Dragon
This next one is a bit of an oddity – a sea creature who camouflages itself by pretending to be a piece of seaweed. The leafy sea dragon – aka Phycodurus eques – doesn’t have many tricks when it comes to avoiding predators so it just stops and hides. They are related to the seahorse, but lack the definition – think a seahorse covered in pondweed and you’re there.
It’s found in the waters around Southern Australia and is something of a mascot for the state of South Australia, where it is a protected species. It needs protection as it was being threatened by pollution and people hunting it for use in alternative medicine. They are also slow at swimming and unable to hold onto things with their tails like the seahorses can. But when it comes to impersonating seaweed, there’s nothing better than a leafy sea dragon.
2. Vampire Squid
It’s OK – not all the creatures on the list are as harmless as the leafy sea dragons. We’re back to the realm of horror films, with the vampire squid so called because of their cloak of poisonous spikes. They live in the midnight zone, and have glowing red eyes to help them see.
Its body can either be black or red – with the matching red eyes, it’s easy to see where it got its scary reputation. It also has a number of organs called photophores all over its body, that produce flashes of light in order to disorientate and confuse predators. Plus, it can produce blue-lit mucus instead of ink when it’s threatened. It’s a clever squid. Its full name is Vampyroteuthis infernalis – “vampire squid of Hell”. If that doesn’t scare you, what will?
Maybe its midnight zone neighbor the spookfish? The name is enough to give you a clue that these sea creatures are a bit scary looking, with their fluorescent glow and their see-through heads. Again, they are specially adapted for living in the darkest places on Earth – and skin opacity doesn’t help you see where you’re going in the dark does it? Hence the transparent skin, which allows their swiveling eyes to look upwards for glimmers of light as well as straight ahead. They live in tropical-to-temperate waters around the world, but have been rarely caught for human study. It’s believed that their eyes use a kind of mirror-system to be able to see around but one thing is certain – the spookfish is a weird-looking thing. A worthy contender for the title of strangest creature in the ocean.