From the planet’s most colourful fish to its largest animal, Asia Pacific plays host to many of the world’s record-breaking species! In the full spirit of Wildlife Wednesday, we bring you the marine life that has pushed limits to the extreme. Some are deadly serious, others are just for fun.
Most dangerous animal
Each Cubozoa contains enough venom to kill 60 humans! Responsible for more deaths in Australia than snakes, sharks, and crocs put together, the “sea wasp” is estimated to kill around 20–40 people every year in the Philippines, though the true figures could be much higher. Don’t worry though; you still have more chance of being hit by a falling coconut than being killed by a jellyfish.
Reaching lengths of 17 metres, and with eyes as large as human heads (also the largest eyes in the ocean), Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni is likely to have haunted the nightmares of sailors for centuries. Colossal squid have been known to engage in battles of the behemoths – deadly enounters with their predators, sperm whales!
Like some sort of villain from Dante’s Inferno, research suggests Chlamydoselachus anguineus takes the world record for the longest gestation period. These slowgrowing embryos take 3.5 years before they are fully baked – possibly the longest gestation of any animal in the world. An average frilled shark litter is six, though not all will survive.
Highest jumping fish
The Isurus oxyrinchus is the world’s fastest shark, recorded at speeds of around 40 kilometres an hour, with bursts of up to 74 kilometres an hour. But more impressively, the mako is also the highest jumping fish, able to breach an astonishing nine metres out of the water!
Twice the length of a six-wheel flatbed lorry, four times the weight of a tiger tank, Balaenoptera musculus is the largest animal that has ever existed on Earth – its tongue alone weighs the same as an adult elephant.
Although only three to five centimetres long, the Alpheidae, when snapping its claw, releases a “pop” of 218 decibles – louder than a jet engine – and fires a “bubble bullet” that can stun its prey.
While non-human intelligence is a hotly contested and controversial topic, we do know that cetaceans are the oceans’ smartest in terms of the kinds of intelligence we humans recognise. Cetaceans are known to be self aware, are excellent problem solvers, can learn other languages, and have complex social systems. Extrapolating from what we know of their brain anatomy alone, Physeter macrocephalus are likely to be the smartest creatures in the sea; possibly even the smartest creatures on the planet.
It’s a tough call selecting the most colourful fish in the ocean, but if we have to choose one species, for sheer number of colours, the splendid Synchiropus splendidus, with its Timothy Leary-inspired skin gets our nod for the top spot. Runners-up were the parrotfish, the mantis shrimp and a whole load of species of nudibranch.
With a top speed of up to 109 kilometres an hour, the Istiophorus is more than twice as fast as the great white shark, and is unrivalled in the ocean for pace. Their impressive anatomy gives them this advantage – their bill causes low resistance flow, with musculature and circulatory systems adapted for acceleration. They also grow pretty quickly, up to two metres in the first year.
The great white shark
A Carcharodon carcharias has up to 50 teeth in its mouth at any one time, and a tooth will only last for around a week before falling out and being replaced. In their lifetime, they will go through 30,000 to 50,000 teeth.
You don’t get much older than this. Turritopsis dohrnii will age, and then revert to their polyp stage to begin life anew, spawning genetically identical clones that become mature adults – technically the “same” biologically immortal individual. No one knows how old the oldest one is, though they are unlikely to live forever, with their DNA eventually getting worn out. Runners-up in this category are black coral (one colony is recorded as being more than 4,000 years old), and the ocean quahog.
Growing up to 12 metres long (and possibly longer), the world’s biggest shark, and biggest fish, also has the thickest skin. At 10 centimetres thick, Rhincodon typus skin is twice as thick as a rhino’s! Of course, as we all know, whale sharks are cartilaginous; the Mola mola takes the title as the world’s biggest bony fish.
Sea sponges are thought to be the very first multicellular animals to emerge. Evolving possibly more than 700 million years ago, they eventually gave rise to more complex organisms, including vertebrates. Yes, guys and gals, these spongy, seemingly inert life forms are where it all began…
Longest living mammal
Scientists believe that the lifespan of bowhead whales can be over 100 years, and one individual in a study was believed to be more than 200 years old! In 2007 a giant bowhead whale caught off the coast of Alaska had a harpoon point embedded in its neck dating back to around 1880 – surviving an attack from over a century ago! These are probably not only the oldest marine mammals, but also the oldest mammals on the planet.
Cuvier’s beaked whale
Reaching depths of almost 3,000 metres and remaining under for 138 minutes, Cuvier’s beaked whales are perfectly adapted for diving. They have “flipper pockets” that they tuck their flippers into, and “collapsible” rib cages that help them reduce their buoyancy.
So far the only seahorse to have had its top speed recorded is the dwarf seahorse, which, clocking an impressively unhurried 4.5 millimetres per second, takes the official title as world’s slowest fish. However, seahorse experts have reliably informed us that the pygmy seahorse is undeniably slower, and so we hereby bestow this prestigious title upon it!
For more record breakers, check out Scuba Diver AUSTRALASIA (Issue 7/2015)
Article by Alice Grainger and Oliver Jarvis