A sea full of superheroes

, 23 July 2022
A sea full of superheroes
Small-spotted Catshark © Alexander Mustard/2020VISION

Forget Aquaman! Read on for the real superheroes in our seas…

Earth’s mightiest heroes don’t wear capes or Lycra suits. They roam the land, soar through the skies, and swim through the seas. They’re wild wonders, armed with abilities we can only dream of. Some even use their powers to save the world, a little every day, running the natural systems that are essential for life as we know it. This National Marine Week, allow us to introduce six of our sea-going superheroes!

Solar-powered Sea Slug

This soft-bodied sea creature’s comic book credentials include a name packed with alliteration, a colourful costume (often glowing green with a galaxy of glittering spots), and of course the powers to match its vivid visage! Just like Superman, the solar-powered sea slug draws its strength from Earth’s yellow sun. It snacks on seaweed, eating the algae’s chloroplasts without damaging them, and then makes them part of its own body. It can then use the pilfered parts for its own photosynthesis, turning sunlight into energy. Wow!

Bottlenose Dolphin


A good superhero is always aware of their surroundings. The Bottlenose Dolphin takes this to the next level thanks to its enviable echolocation abilities. The dolphin fires off a series of clicking sounds that shoot through the water in waves, traveling faster than sound does through air. The sound waves bounce off objects and echo back to the dolphin, who then uses these echoes to determine details about the objects around it. They can judge an object’s size, shape, and distance from the dolphin, as well as the speed and direction a creature is moving. They can even get some information on the internal structure of objects. All this information stacks together to create an impression of the world around them. Daredevil has nothing on a dolphin!

Small-spotted Catshark


Iron Man had to build a suit of armour, but the catshark is born with one! Like other sharks, this feisty fish has super tough skin thanks to its dermal denticles – which literally means “tiny skin teeth”. It’s covered in tiny, tooth-like scales that help protect it from predators and parasites. But this is no simple suit. The scales overlap and line up so that water can flow smoothly over them as the shark swims forwards. This cuts down drag and lets the shark move more quickly. Speed, strength, and style – now that’s a superhero suit!

Beadlet Anemone

A little reddish-brown blob might not look like much, but as with many superheroes, looks can be deceiving. This rapacious rockpool resident has a secret weapon – it can fire stinging harpoons from its retractable tentacles and from a ring of blue bumps around its body! When its tentacles touch a passing prey species, or another anemone gets close enough to become a nuisance neighbour, it shoots out stinging cells that inject venom into their target. Zap! Prey is stunned, pulled into the mouth, and eaten. Enemy anemones are warned away. A superhero with a sting!

Cuttlefish

No superhero squad is complete without a team member that can disguise themselves. Our seas have plenty of potential candidates, including the Cuttlefish. This cryptic creature is no stranger to clever camouflage. It can change its appearance at will, blending in with its surroundings to effectively become invisible. It doesn’t just change the colour of its skin – this maritime Mystique can even change its texture to double down on the deception. That’s one sneaky cephalopod!

Oyster

Donna Tomlinson


We all know that sometimes superheroes must team up to save the world. A single oyster might not be all that powerful, but when they grow close together and join forces, they can transform the waters around them. Oysters feed by sucking in water and filtering out particles. Anything edible is digested; the rest is ejected in a mucus-bound lump that tends to settle on the sea floor. As a result, when they spit the water back out, it’s cleaner than it was to start with. They’re natural water filters that improve conditions for other wildlife. Talk about team players!

Heroes in hot water

Many of our sea-going superheroes are fighting for their lives, battling with villains beyond their abilities: from overfishing, disease, and plastic pollution, to the dramatic effects that the climate crisis is wreaking upon our oceans. We need to do all we can to help turn the tide and give them a fighting chance. It could be by taking action at home, such as reducing our carbon footprint and plastic consumption. Or it could be by campaigning for bigger changes in marine protection, energy use, and other major policies. Together, we can make a difference for our seas. Ocean lovers assemble!

Find out more about how you can help by signing up for our exclusive monthly newsletter! It’s packed with marine conservation news from around the world, exciting wildlife sightings, and updates on protecting our seas. Sign up at: wildlifetrusts.org/marine-mailing

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Comments

  • Margaret Devitt:

    This was so fascinating that I interrupted my work to finish reading it all. More please or perhaps more photos & detail of those you’ve already touched on. What can we do to help especially if like me you are old (83), decrepit & poor? I try to avoid plastics. I pick up litter on the beach & I look daggers at those who drop it. Any other suggestions?

    28 Jul 2022 10:52:00

  • Sussex Wildlife Trust:

    Thanks for your comment, Margaret. It’s great to hear you are enjoying our content for National Marine Week. We do have lots of other content on our website which gives more information about marine species and marine conservation in Sussex, please look at our Living Seas section: https://sussexwildlifetrust.org.uk/what-we-do/living-seas

    Involving yourself in conservation issues can be difficult, particularly if you aren’t able to actively get stuck into physical conservation efforts. However, there’s plenty you can do from home without any cost. Chiefly, this is spreading the word about the issues and the work being done (by ourselves and others) to help tackle these issues. You can also get involved through things like consultations so as to have your say on developments which may be affecting wildlife – we do generally try and post up about these kinds of things so keep watching our website and social media accounts. Sarah Ward 

  • Jennie and Neil MCWALTER:

    Fascinating and informative. Many thanks.

    28 Jul 2022 11:11:00

  • Claire Saxby:

    Great information! Simple and attention-grabbing… for little and not so little people.

    28 Jul 2022 11:12:00

  • Sussex Wildlife Trust:

    Thank you

  • Christine Lindsay:

    I found a dead catshark on the beach at Clymping last winter. The gulls were ignoring it as a potential food source. I wondered why this could be but after reading about the defensive armour it has, no wonder the birds leave it alone!

    28 Jul 2022 11:55:00

  • Vicki Graver:

    Really interesting, such beautiful photos. We must all do our best to try to keep the oceans fit for these and other creatures.

    28 Jul 2022 12:24:00

  • Jane Montague:

    Beautiful images of this normally hidden world

    28 Jul 2022 12:29:00

  • Maz:

    Yet another brilliant bite-sized piece of information from SWT.
    Keep up the excellent work.
    This will be forwarded to grandsons now……

    28 Jul 2022 12:57:00

  • Peter and Brenda Williams:

    This is brilliant! Amazing images and information. Well done to all. Let’s have more please.

    28 Jul 2022 15:08:00

  • Viviana woods:

    I love reading and learning about the different ways all animals manage to live their lives despite the difficulties they have to put up with. We Humans should learn from them!

    28 Jul 2022 18:34:00

  • Beata:

    Like to find more about underwater world and conservation

    28 Jul 2022 19:49:00

  • MARK DAVID JONATHAN DUNN:

    Excellent article.

    29 Jul 2022 11:42:00

  • Christine Dafter:

    Maybe Viviana Woods and perhaps other folk who commented yesteday on this amazing marine news might like to look at Nicola Peel’s website www.nicolapeel.com or www.eyesofgaia.com or contact Nicola herself at [email protected], involved in the world of Biomimicry, learning how we can learn from nature on how to change the way humans live.

    29 Jul 2022 13:09:00

  • Eileen Slater:

    Very interesting to know about the superheroes. More Maritime conservation areas, reducing sea pollution and plastic in the ocean and using helpful methods of fishing are essential.

    31 Jul 2022 16:40:00

  • Sandy Henney:

    Loved the stories and great alliteration! Well done SWT.

    01 Aug 2022 05:53:00

  • Eileen Slater:

    Very interesting to know about the superheroes. More Maritime conservation areas, reducing sea pollution and plastic in the ocean and using helpful methods of fishing are essential.

    01 Aug 2022 15:50:00

  • Eileen Slater:

    Very interesting to know about the superheroes. More Maritime conservation areas, reducing sea pollution and plastic in the ocean and using helpful methods of fishing are essential.

    02 Aug 2022 07:47:00

  • Zack Maxwell:

    What about the villains! .. my wife and I went for a swim at the weekend and she stepped on a Weaver fish – she said the pain was “as bad as childbirth”!!

    08 Aug 2022 08:26:00

  • Sussex Wildlife Trust:

    So sorry to hear that. Yes it's a good idea to wear shoes in the sea if at all possible.