At the beginning of every class we love to ask our students, “What’s your favorite sea creature?” Fascinated and excited by perceived danger, students shout out answers like "sharks!" or "stingrays!" or "crabs!" 

But, as it turns out, some of these misunderstood sea creatures don't live up to their dangerous reputations. 

Crabs

Although they have claws, crabs are gentle creatures that prefer hiding over fighting. Being one of their key features, the claws are often used for gathering food, digging burrows, and finding mates. Rather than pinching, running away or blending in is their best form of defense. 

An arrow crab hides in a sponge waiting to grab a tasty meal.

An arrow crab hides in a sponge waiting to grab a tasty meal.

Rays

Have you ever seen these beautiful ocean skimmers? If you have, we're sure it was an unforgettable experience. Although they possess a venomous barb, a ray’s first defense is to glide away. The main purpose of the barb is protection from predators like sharks. Instead of using these barbs, rays often go unseen by predators by burying themselves in the sand with their flattened bodies.

These cow-nosed rays glide along the shores of Sanibel, putting on a show for those who walk by at just the right time.

These cow-nosed rays glide along the shores of Sanibel, putting on a show for those who walk by at just the right time.

Horseshoe Crabs

We often see these prehistoric sea creatures roaming the ocean floor in muddy areas off the Sanibel coast. These animals are scavengers, eating mostly dead plants and animals that settle on the bottom. Beachgoers commonly believe that the long tail, called a telson, is a toxic barb, but these are actually used for flipping themselves upright. One note of caution: the top side of these animals tends to be sharp, so watch your step!

This Horseshoe crab races around looking for dead things to eat. 

This Horseshoe crab races around looking for dead things to eat. 

Sharks

Folklore and Hollywood have taught us to believe that sharks are aggressive, man-eating machines. But sharks aren’t our enemies, they're a vital part of the global marine ecosystem and are rarely aggressive towards humans. Using specialized sensory organs, they typically look for injured fish that are significantly smaller than them. The Whale shark is the largest shark (and the largest fish) in the world, but eats the smallest creatures, plankton. Without these top predators, the balance of our ecosystems could not be maintained. So next time you take a minute to think about sharks, try to be thankful instead of afraid. 

Sanibel is home to many sharks, including this nurse shark that likes to hang out on the ocean floor looking for prey. 

Sanibel is home to many sharks, including this nurse shark that likes to hang out on the ocean floor looking for prey. 

Jellyfish

These magnificent animals are found floating around the globe. Jellies have stinging tentacles, some more painful than others. However, the majority of jellyfish stings can easily be remedied by pouring some vinegar on the affected area. Most jellies that we find on Sanibel have been washed ashore, and are easily avoided. These unique drifters have been on our planet for over 500 million years!

Moon Jelly, a common jelly found floating along in Sanibel waters.

Moon Jelly, a common jelly found floating along in Sanibel waters.

Photos provided by Carolyn Belak.

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