15,420 Species Call the Gulf of Mexico Home

diamondback terapinBlue Ocean Network.com – April 15, 2014) –The Gulf of Mexico is home to more than 15,420 species—from the deep sea floor to  coastal estuaries, the Gulf has an astonishing biodiversity. To highlight this diversity and introduce you to some of these not-so-common species, that you might not think live in the Gulf, here are our top 10…



1. Killer Whale

We usually think of orcas living in colder climates, but approximately 500 orcas live in the Gulf of Mexico. Here they feed on dolphins and tuna in the Gulf’s deepest waters.  It may be that these “killer whales” also fed on Caribbean monk seals, unfortunately went extinct in the 1950s.

2. the Atlantic Silver Hatchetfish

Some know this species as the “lovely hatchetfish,”. This fish travels in deep waters, up and then back down the water column daily. However what makes this fish really interesting is that It has a unique ability to bioluminescence via glowing photophores, a technique that brings prey close enough to capture.

3. Sea Hare

They might resemble an ordinary slug … but when you see them glide through sea grass beds you think otherwise. You’ll  most likely to get a glimpse of the sea hare while snorkeling through rocky inter-tidal environments that are covered in marine algae, which they feed on. If frightened or threatened, they can emit a cloud of dark ink to confuse and deter its predators.

4. Pancake Batfish

This fish uses its foot-like fins, to push off the sea floor. By lapping its tail, it can move swiftly across the sand like a frog. It also has a long nose that can offer a lure to entice prey close to its mouth.

5. Great White Shark

Commonly thought to be the ocean’s most ferocious predator, great whites can pass through the Gulf but they usually stay in its cooler, deeper, waters. When the temperatures, however, drop to 60 degrees or lower, the large sharks will move into the coastal waters, within 20 miles offshore. This species has been federally protected since 2004, so if you catch one you must let it go,

6. Bighead Searobin

There are at least 12 species of searobins that inhabit the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. The bighead searobin is most common, and the only one to inhabit estuaries and lakes, and the shallow coastal waters. These beautiful fish easily glide through the water using their “wings”, however they can also use their elongated rays to ‘walk’ on the bottom of the sea in search of worms and small shrimp.

7. Vampire Squid

Known as the “Vampire Squid from Hell”, this cephalopod is a living fossil that has seen little change in more than 300 million years ago. They live deeper than half a mile in the Gulf’s darkest waters and have unique defensive mechanisms, that include the ability to turn themselves inside out. Plus it can bioluminesce from points on its tentacles giving it the appearance of extra sets of eyes, that keep predators away from its head.

8. Sargassum Fish

This fish is unique in appearance and blends perfectly into the Sargassum seaweed, in which it lives.This floating habitat carries it across the Gulf of Mexico, into the shelter of coastal estuaries. This fish can rapidly change its color, from dark to light and back again and can dangle its esca before its mouth (like a fishing lure) that attracts small fish, and shrimps.

9. Lionfish

The lionfish,is a venomous species native to the Indo-Pacific region. They are rapid breeders, opportunistic predators and consequently are highly invasive, raising concerns that lionfish, seemingly with no natural enemies, will have an adverse impact on native fish populations. Lionfish are being observed by scuba divers on reefs off the Gulf coast of the U.S and Mexico and into the northern Caribbean.

10. Diamondback Terrapin

This turtle is native to North America and has one of the largest ranges of all turtles, traveling south to the Florida Keys and north as car as Cape Cod. Its home is in the brackish swamps of the eastern and southern coasts of the United States. Looking much like their freshwater relatives, terrapins are well adapted to the marine environment near to shore. They can survive in varying salinities, having skin that is largely impermeable to salt water and lachrymal salt glands used primarily when dehydrated.

This article was extracted from the National Wildlife Federation’s blog, Wildlife Promise By Ryan Fikes.