The largest animal on the planet is the Blue Whale. The largest fish is the Whale Shark. Both of these marine mammals are filter feeders.
The ocean is home to some of the weirdest, creepiest and largest living creatures on this planet. A mere glimpse of them spawned countless tales of sea monsters, such as the Loch Ness Monster and the Kraken. Reality might not be as terrifying as these fantastical monsters, but it doesn’t make any of these creatures any less amazing. They are big and they come in all shapes and sizes. So, here’s a list of some of the ocean’s superlative animals.
The Largest: The Blue Whale, Balaenoptera musculus.
It is the biggest animal in the ocean to have ever existed. To measure the blue whale, you would need approximately 108 standard 12-inch rulers placed end to end to measure the biggest blue whale out there. That’s a lot of rulers. This incredible creature weighs an astounding 177 tons, the same as about 30 African Bush Elephants, the largest land mammal.
Its relatives are other giant whales called Baleen Whales, suborder Mysticeti. The whales in this suborder differ from other whales in that they have something called baleen plates, instead of teeth. Other humongous whales in this suborder are the fin whale, the second largest after the blue whale, coming in at 26 m (85 ft), as well as the humpback whale and the Sei whale.
Even though baleen whales reach such enormous sizes, they feast on surprisingly small creatures—krill, zooplankton and small fish. An adult whale can eat about 40 million krill a day! They just open their mouths, position themselves properly and then suck in all the krill in one gulp—a feeding method called filter feeding.
The Whale Shark, The Largest Fish, Rhincodon typus
The Whale Shark is so big that it’s called a whale, but it is in fact a shark, being a part of the class Chondrichthyes, which contains all cartilaginous fish, including sharks, rays and skates. The maximum recorded verifiable length is 18.8 meters, while some other sources have even reported seeing whale sharks at a staggering 20 meters (65.6 feet) in length!
With its characteristic dotted pattern, the whale shark is found globally, and prefers warmer, more tropical climates like those of Western Australia, where they are frequently sighted. This massive fish roams the open water, filter feeding like baleen whales, coming to the surface to feed.
The Whale Shark is known as a gentle creature that minds its own business and feeds on krill. There have been a few times when Whale Sharks have rammed into the sides of boats, mostly while feeding, and these strikes do not appear to be malicious in nature.
Whale Sharks are listed as a vulnerable species.
Nomura’s Jellyfish – The Heaviest Jellyfish, Nemopilema nomurai
When most of us think of jellyfish, we think of ethereal floating tentacled bells that can cause you a lot of pain if you run into one at the beach. However, we rarely think of them as gigantic, or even heavy. Well, the Nomura’s Jellyfish should change that.
Coming in at 2 meters (6.5 feet) in diameter and weighing 200 kilograms (440.9 pounds), the Nomura’s Jellyfish is massive. Adults can gain 2 to 10% of their body weight each day, so a 100 kg (220.47 lb) individual could gain 2 kg (4.4 lbs) every day. However, since jellyfish cannot actively find a new food source, their growth depends on the availability of food around them. Jellyfish eat a variety of things, ranging from plankton to shrimp.
The Heaviest bony fish in the seas: The Ocean Sunfish, Mola Mola
If you’ve ever wondered what a 3 meter (9.8 ft) disc would look like with fins, then you’ve probably imagined an ocean sunfish. This odd-looking fish can weigh as much as 2,300 kg (5070.6 lbs). Although the whale shark is also a fish, sharks have cartilage for their skeleton, not bones. Thus, the title of the heaviest bony fish (and some might say the oddest) goes to the sunfish.
Its scientific name means millstone, due to its undeniable millstone shape. The common name, ocean sunfish, comes from their habit of sunbathing so that aquatic birds can nibble the parasites on the back of the fish.
To become as large as the ocean sunfish, which is to say about the size of a rhino, it has to eat. Its favorite meal is jellyfish. The sunfish spends a lot of its time eating a lot of jellyfish, probably not because it loves the taste, but because floating blobs don’t pack a very filling or nutritious meal.
The Longest Bony Fish – The Oarfish, Regalecus glesne
If the ocean sunfish looked like a dinner plate, then the oarfish looks like an accompanying utensil. The oarfish is aptly named for its length and thinness; it slithers around in the seas, intriguing and scaring people in equal measures. If any fish deserves the title of a sea monster, it is this one!
The longest ever recorded is 8 m (26.2 ft) long, but some have reported oarfish up to 11 m (36 ft)! The latter length might not be reliable due to an odd ability of the oarfish to detach their tail from their bodies, just as lizards do with their tails. So, some past records have assumed the length of the tail, which leads to a very long oarfish.
Why the fish detaches its tail isn’t clear. Oarfish prefer the deep open oceans over shallower waters, making it difficult for scientists to observe them. Specimens are difficult to come by, and good ones are even rarer. Since scientists have such limited information on this sea serpent, it is also difficult to estimate the maximum length to which the oarfish could grow. With that said, 8 meters is the length of 4 very tall people, which is still pretty impressive!
Some Honorary Mentions:
The oceans offer so many strange life forms to observe, it’s impossible to write about all of them. Here are a few that just missed the list.
The Giant Clam, Tridacna gigas, is the largest clam you’re likely to ever see. You will not find this 1.37 m (4.5 ft) clam, which potentially reaches weights of 333 kgs (734 lbs), in your clam chowder anytime soon. Described as a man-eating clam, the Giant clam is listed as a vulnerable species on ICUN’s list. There have been several efforts made to aquaculture the clam and release it back into the wild.
If squids and octopuses, aka cephalopods, aren’t on a list of ocean superlatives, that list is incomplete. The Colossal squid, Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni, is the heaviest invertebrate and probably terrorized many ships, inspiring all sorts of terrifying stories. The heaviest a Colossal Squid has been recorded at is 495 kgs (1091 lbs), and measuring as long as 2 humans. The Colossal squid often gets confused with another big cephalopod, the Giant Squid, Architeuthis dux. It seems that whoever named them didn’t have a dictionary or much imagination on hand, leaving many mistaking the two. The Giant squid takes the longest cephalopod title, coming in at 12 meters (39 ft) thanks to its trailing tentacles.
Size is important for living things. It determines how their bodies work and how well they can adapt to certain environments. Certain sea animals, like whales, have to be large so that they don’t lose too much heat to the freezing cold waters they swim in. Studying size is also important for scientists. Knowing size allows them to make predictions about metabolism, nutritional requirements and certain behaviors. In the end, though, each animal is ideally suited to its environment. If it happens to also be big and sometimes scary in appearance, it will become the stuff of human legends!