penquins, underwater fathers


Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there!

In honor of your day, we decided to do a little digging on fatherhood in the underwater kingdom. What we turned up was a little surprising, but also quite informative. (photo – Christopher Michel/Wikipedia Commons)

Interestingly, some male species have adopted a “love ’em and leave ’em” strategy. While it may seem strange to us mere mortals that some marine life dads are absent, it turns out there’s a very important scientific reason for their behavior – survival of their species.


Evolution Made Me Do It!

According to Les Kaufman, a member of our Blue Ocean Network and an evolutionary ecologist at Boston University’s Marine Program, evolution is to blame for males not sticking around to help raise their offspring.

“Life’s overriding goal is to get your genes out there with a minimum amount of invested energy and time,” explains Les. “The female’s role usually forces her to put much more time into the parenting process. So she’s choosier, selecting a mate to avoid wasting this time and energy. The male uses less energy but also has less control over whether his genes make it into the next generation. So he hedges his bets by mating as much as possible.”


Underwater Dads That Do The Heavy Lifting

However, there are quite a few underwater papas that are involved in their offsprings’ development, either due to severe living conditions that require two parents or unusual reproductive techniques like external fertilization. Let’s take a look at our top ten ‘fins-on’ dads (in no specific order):


seahorses, underwater fathers1. The male seahorse is not only monogamous, but he’s the one that gets pregnant, too, often carrying over 2,000 babies at a time! During their mating dance, the female seahorse lays eggs inside the male, which he fertilizes. You can watch the dance and the dad proudly showing off his pregnant belly as he gives birth. (photo – Olympus Camera)



penquins, underwater fathers2. The Emperor Penguin papa is responsible for keeping the egg warm…when it’s 72 degrees Fahrenheit below zero! For two months, the male penguins huddle together, keeping each other warm and their offspring eggs. When the eggs hatch, it’s the dad, who hasn’t eaten for months, that provides the baby’s first nourishment. (photo – Christopher Michel/Wikipedia Commons)



clownfish, underwater fathers3. Nemo’s dad is all about teamwork. Clownfish males work together with their female partners to clean an anemone and, by fanning their fins, keeping a constant supply of oxygen-rich water flowing over the fertilized eggs in order to ensure the best chances of survival. (photo – Burt Jones, Maurine Shimlock/Secret Sea Visions)


stickleback, fish, father's day, underwater fathers4. The stickleback fish uses its sticky secret weapon, a secretion from its kidneys, to attract females. Once the lucky lady drops by his ‘love nest’ and lays her eggs, the stickleback moves on, in search of his next lover, all while keeping the eggs primed for life by fanning oxygen-rich water over them at more than 400 beats per minute. (photo – Nico Tinbergen)


water bug, father's day, underwater fathers5. Waterbug papas are insects you don’t want to mess with. Giant water bugs carry eggs on their wings until they hatch and are known to give one of the most painful insect bites around, especially when they’re protecting their offspring. (photo – Nat. Geo Animal Pictures)




frog, father's day, underwater fathers6. Frogs and toads are exemplary fathers. Whether they’re carrying around tadpoles in their mouths and refusing to eat until the babies are old enough to survive on their own, or using their special pouch to harbor their young, it’s clear that frogs and toads will go to great lengths to protect their babies. (photo – Nat. Geo.)



lumpsucker, father's day, underwater fathers7. Lumpsuckers will sit still until their eggs hatch….unless you try to interfere with it. In fact, a lumpsucker dad will meet predators with a fierce display of protectivness, so make sure to keep back. (photo –




arowana, fish, father's day, underwater fathers8. Father arowanas proudly take care of their young, both when they build nests for them and as they wait to hatch and then protecting them in their mouth once hatched. While he will let the babies out of his mouth to let them explore, you better believe he will find each and every one of them when playtime is up. (photo – Quickwitter)



Jacana, father's day, bird, underwater fathers9. There’s definitely some role reversal for the male jacanas, who make the nests, incubate eggs, and care for the baby chicks….all while the female jacanas are off mating with other males. They’re so loyal that they will care for eggs they didn’t fertilize. (photo –


flamingo, bird, father's day, underwater fathers


10. Just like Nemo’s parents, flamingo partners are a pretty great team. Both male and female flamingos incubate the eggs. Once hatched, both parents keep a watchful eye over the chicks, which aren’t strong enough to stand or walk. Watch this video of flamingo parents helping their chick takes its first steps. (photo – imagekind)


See these Related Blue Ocean Articles on Marine Life:

Unlocking the Mysteries of Marine Migration: Sea Turtles, Whale Sharks and More
Protect Sea Turtles On World Turtle Day
Narwhal News
Ban the Trade in Shark Fins
What’s Killing Humpbacks, Orcas and Dolphins? A Reprieve for Cowhead Rays
Friendly Seal and Scuba Diver Face Off
Old Fish, New Fish, All Things Fish, plus Whales, Sharks and Dugongs
Awesome and a Bit Bizarre Marine Life Discoveries
A Whale of a Tale