Ten Sea Creatures We Know Very Little About

December 10, 2015 | Joanne Kennell

The seep-sea scyphozoan jellyfish, Atolla wyvillei, as seen under white light.
Photo credit: Edith A. Widder/NOAA-OE

From fluffy unicorns of the sea to the ugliest animal in the world.

Amazingly, we have only explored five percent of the oceans, and an estimated two-thirds of all ocean life remains to be discovered.  However, some very interesting creatures have been unearthed among the known one-third of ocean species.  Unfortunately, we know so little about them.


Whiplash Squid

Whiplash squid, or “Taningia Danae,” range between three and seven feet long.  They can also produce a bright light that is used to blind prey and travel at speeds between two and two-and-a-half miles per hour.  There is very little known about them — they are rarely seen alive because they live at such great depths in the ocean.  You can watch a rare video recently captured of the elusive creature.


Frilled Shark

frilled shark
Photo credit: Mario Sánchez Bueno/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The frilled shark is often called a “living fossil” because it has changed so little since prehistoric times.  It is rarely seen by humans since it typically resides between 390 and 4200 feet below the surface.  Its mouth is lined with 25 rows of backward-facing teeth — 300 in all — along with dermal denticles (or spines).  Males grow to an average size of 3.2 to 3.6 feet, while females range from 4.4 to 4.9 feet, which may have something to do with the gestation period — speculated to last 42 months.


Pacific Viperfish

Head of a pacific Viperfish caught during trawling operations.
Head of a pacific Viperfish caught during trawling operations. Photo credit: David Csepp/NOAA

Pacific viperfish are one of the fiercest predators in the ocean.  They live so deep that they appear invisible, however, they use a “fishing lure” at the top of their head to attract prey.  This fishing lure has a photophore (or natural light) at its end, and the viperfish are able to switch it on and off.  Viperfish teeth are so large that they cannot close their mouth with their teeth inside, instead the teeth curve to the outside of the fish’s head.



Photo credit: Peter Enzerink/Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0). Image has been cropped.

The blobfish was voted the Ugliest Animal in the World in an attempt to raise awareness to the planet’s aesthetically challenged endangered species — honestly, I think we can see why.  However, we really do not know much about it other than that it has a big head and it lives on the ocean floor, typically at depths of 3,900 feet.  Since the blobfish does not have any muscles, it pretty much just hovers above the ocean floor and eats whatever floats into its mouth.


Goblin Shark

The head of a juvenile Goblin Shark, Mitsukurina owstoni, with the jaws protruded showing the long slender teeth
The head of a juvenile Goblin Shark, Mitsukurina owstoni, with the jaws protruded showing the long slender teeth. Photo credit: Dianne Bray/Museum Victoria (CC BY 3.0 AU)

Humans do not know too much about the goblin shark, however, what we do know makes them very unique.  They appear pink in color because they have a translucent skin that allows us to see the oxygenated blood within their capillaries.  Goblin sharks have flat, elongated, overhanging snouts and very sharp fang-like teeth.  Their snouts also have electro-sensitive receptors that can pick up electric fields.  These sharks are rarely spotted since they spend much of their time between 130 and 3,940 feet.



Pelagic colonial tunicate or salp encountered off Atauro island, East Timor.
Pelagic colonial tunicate or salp encountered off Atauro island, East Timor. Photo credit: Nick Hobgood/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Nicknamed the “Unicorns of the Sea”, pyrosomes are colonies composed of hundreds and sometimes thousands of tiny filter-feeders known as zooids that are joined by a “gelatinous tunic”.  Each individual works in unison to move the colony through the water, and some colonies have grown as large as 60 feet.  Pyrosomes are also bioluminescent, meaning they can emit light, not only individually, but also as a group.  They have been described as fluffy by people who have touched them, and they only eat plankton through filtration.



The squidworm, first discovered in 2007, was given its name because it has ten elastic and extendable tentacle-like appendages on its head, each longer than its body.  Two of the tentacles are used for feeding on organic particles, while the other eight are used for breathing.  They also have two feathery structures on their heads called “nuchal organs” that are used like a nose for smelling chemicals in the water.  It is a member of the group that includes earthworms and leeches, and it lives just above the sea floor — an area of the ocean not easily explored.


Pink Sea-Through Fantasia

The Pink Sea-Through Fantasia was recently discovered in 2012, so there is not a lot of information about it.  It is a species of free-swimming sea cucumber that can be found in the Celebes Sea around a depth of 8,200 feet.


Atolla Jellyfish

The seep-sea scyphozoan jellyfish, Atolla wyvillei, as seen under white light.
Photo credit: Edith A. Widder/NOAA

The Atolla jellyfish are typically found between depths of 3,280 to 13,100 feet, in a region known as the “midnight zone” because no sunlight penetrates at this depth.  Due to this lack of sunlight, Atolla are equipped with bioluminescent blue flashes, which they use as a defense tactic when threatened.  They use their light to draw attention to creatures in the ocean that will eat a potential predator as it swims to safety.  It is also equipped with 20 long tentacles, with one long tentacle that is used to capture its prey.


Red-Lipped Batfish

Red-lipped Bat fish @ Galapagos
Photo credit: Rein Ketelaars/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Red-lipped batfish always look like they are ready for a night on the town with their bright red lips that scientists believe are used by the male to attract a female.  However, there is something very weird about this fish — they are terrible swimmers.  Instead of swimming, they walk on the ocean floor using their fins as legs.  These fish reach a maximum of 40 centimeters long and live near the Galapagos islands at a depth ranging between 10 to 250 feet.  They also have a built in “fishing rod” snout that is retractable, allowing them to lure in prey.

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