The fastest, the slowest and the oldest…
Our oceans are full of extremes. Here are a few to wonder about - and to help you win any pub arguments about what marines animals are the top performers
Measuring the speed on an animal in open water is notoriously difficult and there has been a number of claimants for this title from blue-fin tuna to shortfin mako sharks. And if you want to consider long distance competitors rather than sprinters, the 150-ton blue whale (Balaenopterus musculus) is in with a shout with steady speeds of 29.76mph recorded. But if you are going for flat-out speed records, the consensus is that the sailfish (Istiophorus platypterus) with speeds of 68mph when leaping is the Usain Bolt of the marine world. In fact, all the near rivals clock their highest speeds when leaping and include swordfish (Xiphias gladius) at 60mph and the yellow-fin tuna (Thunnus albacares) at 46.35mph. The fastest without leaping is the orca (Orcinus orca) which was recorded at speeds of 34.5mph. When you consider that water is 750 times more dense than air you realise the sheer power of the killer whale. Another point is that nothing, absolutely nothing in the marine world escapes a pack of hunting orcas.
The slowest-moving fish in our ocean are sea horses, and bringing up the rear are the pygmy seahorses such as the Bargibant’ seahorse (Hippocampus bargibanti) above, which probably never attain speeds of more than 0.001mph. They also have one of the smallest ranges of any fish, not venturing further than an area the size of a side plate for all their day-to-day activities. Outside of the vertebrates, there are hordes of beasties barely moving across the sea bed such as brittlestars, mollusks and sea cucumbers. Starfish, for example, can muster a top speed of 0.06mph. Going up in size, one of the slowest sharks is the cold water dwelling Greenland shark (Somniosus microcephalus) which rarely gets above 1mph.
And the oldest
Bowhead whales (Balaena mysticetus) are believed to be the longest-living of all mammals. Chemical analysis on samples from their eyeballs revealed ages up to an estimated 211 years. Accounting for a margin of error of about 16 per cent, the oldest bowhead studied could have been up to 245 years old—no other mammal is known to have lived as long. They can survive this long because they have a very low body temperature — and the lower an animal's body temperature, the longer it can live. But the hands down winner on the longevity stakes is the humble ocean quahog clam () Some collected specimens have been calculated to be more than 400 years old. These animals show exceptional longevity with a highest reported age of any animal with a specimen called ‘Ming’ reaching 507 years. It was collected alive by an expedition in 2006 so it may have lived even longer if left in the wild.
But upping the ante on the longevity stakes is the humble ocean quahog clam (Mercenaria mercenaria) below. Some collected specimens have been calculated to be more than 400 years old. These animals show exceptional longevity with the highest reported age a specimen called ‘Ming’ reaching 507 years. It was collected alive by an expedition in 2006 so it may have lived even longer if left in the wild.
But putting even that to shame is the Leiopathes – a deep-water black coral found off the island of Hawaii — thousands of feet below the surface, where conditions are dark and cold and slow. These black corals grow a hair’s width a year. The oldest is now known to have lived longer than any other animal on Earth — 4,270 years. Before some of the Egyptian pyramids were built, this coral was alive.
But even more impressive is what is known as the 'Immortal Jellyfish' (Turritopsis Dohrnii), below, which can transform itself from an adult back into a baby through a process known as transdifferentiation. The jellyfish turns itself into a blob-like cyst, which then develops into a polyp colony; this is the first stage in jellyfish life. Through asexual reproduction, the resulting polyp colony can spawn hundreds of genetically identical jellyfish - near perfect copies of the original adult.