Ocean of Hope

The Fastest, Heaviest, Largest, Longest, & Oldest Ocean Animals

oarfish Smithsonian
The longest fish in the ocean: Oarfish photo of oarfish model taken at Smithsonian Institution

Now that the Winter Olympics are over, I thought I’d list some record-breaking ocean animals:

1. The fastest fish in the ocean is a sailfish clocked at 68.18 mph (miles per hour)or 109.73 kph (kilometers per hour).

2. The fastest shark is a mako shark measured at 60 mph (96.56 kph).

3. The heaviest bony fish is a Mola mola (ocean sunfish) that was 10 feet long and weighed 4,928 pounds.

4. The largest fish is a whale shark that was 41.5 feet long (12.6 meters) and weighed 66,000 pounds (21.5 metric tons).

5. The largest, heaviest, and longest ocean animal is a blue whale female measured at 109 feet 3.5 inches(33.27 meters) and 190 tons.

6. The longest fish is an oarfish that was 56 feet long (17 meters)

7. The longest colony (of more than one animal) of animals is a siphonophore (similar to a jellyfish) named Praya dubia that is 100-160 feet long (30-50 meters)

8. The oldest ocean animal was an ocean quahog clam named Ming who was 507 years old.

9. The oldest mammal is a bowhead whale estimated to be at least 211 years old.

10. The deepest swimming air-breathing animal is a sperm whale, which can dive to depths of 9800 feet (3 kilometers)

Some facts based on Biggest, Smallest, Fastest, and Deepest marine animals

Florida Manatees in 2013: Deadliest Year on Record

Florida manatees
Manatee calf nursing on its mother

Hi, my name is Flo and I’m a manatee. It’s nice that manatees are now respected by humans. Other than (hopefully) accidental boat strikes, humans are no longer trying to kill Florida’s manatees like when we were hunted pre-twentieth century.

I think it is a term of endearment that we are also called sea cows. We eat only underwater plants just like cows eat grass on land.

Manatees only frequent rivers and lagoons where the year round temperature is 72 degrees F (22 degrees C). I especially like the warm water outfalls of power plants! When those warm areas are under threat, so are we. Unfortunately last year (2013) nearly 17 percent of the Florida manatee population died. I feel lucky to be alive!

This record number of deaths was due for many reasons, including red tides, an unknown disease, and boat strikes.

Red tides occur when there is a potentially fatal algae outbreak. This outbreak starts out at the bottom of the food chain. This dinoflagellate slowly bioaccumulates up the food chain until large animals such as myself eat those infected organisms and possibly get sick or die.

Many manatees (at least 115) died of a mysterious illness that also took the lives of some dolphins and pelicans. This occurred in Indian River Lagoon.

Manatees are very vulnerable to boat strikes because we graze in shallow water. There are just so many boats out there. Plus we sometimes get stuck in fishing nets due to our slow nature, and because the water we live in isn’t always crystal clear.

Phew! Next time I promise not to be so morbid and I will cover more interesting aspects of manatee biology and behavior.

How Do Whales Avoid Sunburn?

Sperm whale with remoras
Enigma the Sperm Whale and his Remora friends: Photo by Bryant Austin

Ahh, I love basking in the sun! Up to six hours a day in between dives. Hello, I’m a sperm whale, and my name is Enigma. Scientists took a sample of my skin using a modified crossbow and arrowhead, and compared it to over a hundred other sperm, blue, and fin whales in the Gulf of California. Guess what? They found that the three types of whales had three different ways to deal with UV exposure at the surface of the ocean.

1. Fin whales have high levels of melanin, the same type of pigment that helps humans tan.

2. Blue whales tan (much like humans) in their summer feeding grounds.

3. Sperm whales have proteins that protect them at a cellular level. That is similar to humans, who produce antioxidants in response to free radicals (which can cause cell or DNA damage) produced while exposed to the sun.

So why is studying whales like me important?

1. Due to the ozone layer deteriorating, us whales are exposed to more UV light than in the past. This is causing more skin lesions and other skin problems in whales. These skin problems could potentially cause cancer too.

2. Since we spend so much time at the surface, scientists can also measure our exposure to UV light over time to measure the health of the oceans.

3. The research done on whales can help scientists better understand the aging process and cancer in humans.

Although humans have natural defenses against the sun’s damaging rays, don’t forget to use an eco-friendly and biodegradable sunscreen, especially if you enter the ocean!

10 Killer Whales, or Orca Whales, Facts

Orca breaching
Killer Whale breaching photo by NOAA

10 Killer Whales or Orca Whales Facts:

1. Orca Whales are found in all the world’s oceans.

2. Orcas are apex predators and lack any natural predators.

3. Most males never leave their mothers.

4. Orcas have culture since their hunting techniques and vocalizations are passed down generations.

5. Killer Whales generate 3 types of sounds: clicks, whistles, and pulsed calls.

6. Each pod has its own dialect of calls (that only they use).

7. Orcas and pilot whales are the only non-human species in which females undergo menopause (around age 40 years) and live decades after.

8. There may be up to 4 generations of Orcas in a traveling group.

9. Orcas have the 2nd heaviest brain among marine mammals (sperm whales have the heaviest brain)

10. A female Orca gives birth to 1 calf every five years, and she averages 5 calves per lifetime.

Also see: The 200-Year-Old Bowhead Whale: The Oldest Mammal on Earth

10 Cool Facts About Narwhals

8 Surprising Facts about Orcas from Treehugger

Book Review: Beautiful Whale by Bryant Austin

book Beautiful Whale
Beautiful Whale by Bryant Austin

If I had to describe Bryant Austin’s book, “Beautiful Whale,” in one word, it would be *amazing*. Just looking at the photographs of whales up close is enough to make you go wow, but his accounts of how he got the pictures are just as awe-inspiring.

Austin’s visually stunning oversized coffee table book is based on the life-sized pictures he takes of whales. Taking photographs so close and in so much detail is much easier said than done. He must be within 6 feet of a whale, and he patiently waits for the whale to come to him. He also uses a large state-of-the-art 50 megapixel Hasselblad camera.

Austin’s epiphany to photograph whales came after a female humpback whale gently tapped him on the shoulder with her 15 foot, 2 ton pectoral fin (front flipper). Austin had been interacting with her calf and the ever-watchful mom wanted Austin to know that she was watching him. Austin describes the moment as seeing the “calm mindful expression of a whale’s eye looking into my own eyes.” Little did that whale know the path she would send Austin down!

In perusing the book the first time, I was awestruck by the details in each picture. Not only were the eyes soulful, but every pockmark, birthmark, and scratch told their own story about that whale. Austin covers 3 different kinds of whales in this book: the humpback whale, the sperm whale, and the minke whale.

I was privileged enough to attend Austin’s gallery showing of “Beautiful Whale” at the Museum of Monterey in Monterey, California (it runs until September 2, 2013). Although I could have spent hours staring at his life-size and length whale photographs, I only had a few minutes to indulge them with 2 young children in tow. I did take a picture of them with Enigma, a sperm whale, and of course I couldn’t get the whole 20 foot long whale in one frame!

The most amazing part of Austin’s encounters with the whales is that he waits patiently until they approach him. The results are worth his patience, but there are not many among us that could wait weeks to get the prize-winning shots.

I had first heard of Austin when I read about how he first showed his work in whaling countries like Japan and Norway. His work was well received, and this speaks volumes for the power Austin’s photographs have.

If you are a whale or animal lover, you must check out this book. Even if you are neither, I promise that at least one picture in his book will move you.

Check out Bryant Austin’s website

Visit Austin’s exhibit at the Museum of Monterey (MOM), open until January 2, 2014

Buy now from

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