Five endearing, weird and strange stories of how some marine creatures express love and intimacy beneath the ocean (by Karishma Goenka)
‘All you need is love’ said a great poet named John Lennon and he wasn’t wrong. Despite the clichéd sickly sweetness of Valentine’s Day that can get repulsive for some of us, we cannot deny the power of love in our lives. Love for some can mean chocolates, cards, flowers and shiny stones but all these are surface level things. It is when we dive beneath the surface that we understand love is so much more. It is about understanding and accepting each other and others as they are, without judgment. It is about letting people be themselves and realising that despite our unique differences all of us are the same and deserving of love. On this Valentine’s Day let’s explore some amazing and weird romantic relationships underwater.
The male Seahorse is every woman’s dream guy. Once he finds a mate, he begins a slow captivating courtship ritual that will make your heart melt. They slowly build their relationship by spending time days before the actual copulation and get to know one another by dancing together, like practicing for a ball.
On the day of their final performance they venture out of the shelter of rocks and grassy beds and take their dance to open water. They float mid water, tails sweetly entwined, belly to belly until the female impregnates the male with eggs. The pregnant male then takes care of the eggs in his pouch for 18 days till the babies are born as fully formed miniature seahorses.
Labour of love
What some divers thought looked like small alien crop circles on the sea floor in Japan, they found years later to be the doing of a new species of puffer fish. These male puffers were constructing elaborate circular formations in the sand to attract female puffers to mate with. These sand patterns much larger than the fish itself, take them 7-10 days to make despite the disturbance of changing tides and currents.
A true labour of love, they make these intricate designs by flapping their fins in the sand and collecting finer sand in the centre of the circle. Sometimes they decorate it with shells and fragments on the edges. Once a female has chosen whose circle she likes best, she lays eggs in the centre and scoots. The male then fertilises them externally and guards them for another six days till they hatch.
Trannies of the Ocean
While the movie Finding Nemo was such a sweet story about reuniting father and son, it did take a slight detour from the truth about anemone fish. What they got right was that the false clown fish or ‘Nemo’ are territorial monogamous fish that almost never venture out of the beautiful stinging anemone they call home.
What they missed out was that all anemone fish are hermaphrodites born as immature males with both reproductive organs. The largest fish in the anemone is the dominant female followed by the dominant male, both of whom are the only ones sexually active. They live and mate with only one another, until one of them dies or is lost. At which point the dominant or largest male turns into the alpha female and the second largest male takes the place of the dominant male. That means in the movie Marlin would have probably become Nemo’s mother and if there was no other fish in the family Nemo would have become the father. That would have made one warped up movie.
Blind dating can be deadly
Male Angler fish spend most of their free lives blindly following a scent. Blind also because they are born in pitch darkness at abysmal depths of 1500 meters. The scent, to which they are instinctively and unknowingly attracted, belongs to the much larger female Angler fish’s pheromones. She also uses the bioluminescent lure hanging like fishing bait from her head to help them find their way.
The last thing a male Angler sees is the warm light of this lure before he realises he has arrived and in euphoric joy goes straight for the kiss by biting her belly. He finds such comfort that he stays, slowly feeling his head fusing to her body till he becomes one with her. The female Angler uses the male’s sperm to fertilize herself, while the male who is now parasitic takes nutrition from her to survive. Over time his entire body is fused with her until all that remains are his reproductive organs.
I want to grow old with you
We realise we’ve grown up when we don’t really want to drink ourselves to death every night and find ourselves craving a quiet time with close friends and good conversations instead of loud bars and hectic parties. This is us winding down to a nice sedentary and balanced lifestyle, hopefully with a partner who wants the same things. Some species of Mantis shrimp live their entire lives like that. Social monogamy is rare in nature and these ancient crustaceans choose to be old fashioned lovers. They mate for life, share the same burrow and raise their offspring together.
Mantis shrimps have one of the most complex set of eyes on the planet and are known to deliver power packed punches that can shatter aquarium glass. Despite being deadly predators themselves they are found to live away from their food sources and hustle bustle, where there is also a chance for them to be predated upon. Thus preferring a safer, quieter life in the suburbs with their mate and growing old together.