Sussex Wildlife Trust’s marine superheroes
Earth’s mightiest heroes roam the land, soar through the skies, and swim through the seas. They’re wild and armed with various abilities. Some of these heroes even use their powers to save the world, a little every day, running the natural systems that are essential for life. This National Marine Week, Sussex Wildlife Trust introduces six of their sea-going superheroes.
Solar-powered Sea Slug
This soft-bodied sea creature’s comic book credentials include an alliterative name, a colourful costume (often glowing green with glittering spots), and the powers to match its vivid visage. Like Superman, the solar-powered sea slug draws its strength from Earth’s yellow sun.
It snacks on seaweed, eating the algae’s chloroplasts without damaging them, and then makes them part of its own body. It can then use the pilfered parts for its own photosynthesis, turning sunlight into energy.
A good superhero is always aware of their surroundings. The Bottlenose Dolphin takes this to the next level thanks to its echolocation abilities. The dolphin fires off a series of clicking sounds that shoot through the water in waves, traveling faster than sound does through air.
The sound waves bounce off objects and echo back to the dolphin, who then uses these echoes to determine details about the objects around it. They can judge an object’s size, shape, and distance, as well as the speed and direction a creature is moving. This information stacks together to create an impression of the world around them. Daredevil has nothing on a dolphin.
Iron Man had to build a suit of armour, but the catshark is born with one. Like other sharks, this fish has super tough skin thanks to its dermal denticles – which literally means “tiny skin teeth”. It’s covered in tiny, tooth-like scales that help protect it from predators and parasites.
The scales overlap and line up so that water can flow smoothly over them as the shark swims forwards. This cuts down drag and lets the shark move more quickly.
A little reddish-brown blob might not look like much, but looks can be deceiving. This rockpool resident can fire stinging harpoons from its retractable tentacles and from a ring of blue bumps around its body.
When its tentacles touch a passing prey species, or another anemone gets close enough to become a nuisance neighbour, it shoots out stinging cells that inject venom into their target. Prey is then stunned, pulled into the mouth, and eaten.
No superhero squad is complete without a team member that can disguise themselves. The Cuttlefish is no stranger to clever camouflage. It can change its appearance at will, blending in with its surroundings to effectively become invisible.
It doesn’t just change the colour of its skin – this maritime Mystique can change its texture to double down on the deception.
Sometimes superheroes must team up to save the world. A single oyster might not be that powerful, but when they grow close together and join forces, they can transform the waters around them. Oysters feed by sucking in water and filtering out particles.
Anything edible is digested; the rest is ejected in a lump that tends to settle on the sea floor. As a result, when they spit the water back out, it’s cleaner than it was to start with. They’re natural water filters that improve conditions for other wildlife.
Helping heroes in the water
Many sea-going superheroes are fighting for their lives, battling with villains such as overfishing, disease, and plastic pollution and the effects that the climate crisis is wreaking upon the oceans.
People can help by taking action at home, such as reducing carbon footprints and plastic consumption, or by campaigning for bigger changes in marine protection, energy use, and other major policies.