With the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games coming to an end, ZuBlu is celebrating its very own ‘Blue Olympics’ with a round up of the top animal athletes of the underwater world.
It’s a beautiful day in sunny Okinawa - the seas are calm, and visibility is 40m+. The competitors enter the spectacular Yonaguni Stadium in Japan’s Okinawa Islands, led by a painted frogfish waving its lure and a school of bannerfish - the 2021 underwater olympics are on! We go straight over to the athletics field for the first event…
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Track - the fastest
Clocked at speeds in excess of 109kph, or 68mph, the sailfish is an easy favourite for the gold in the 100m. This spectacular fish uses colourful displays and its elongated bill to corral small fish into a tight baitball, before plunging into the packed school of prey and picking off individuals.
Silver: Shortfin Mako shark
A close second, the shortfin mako shark can sustain speeds of up to 40 kph, or 25mph, with bursts of speed up to 74 kph, or 46mph. Combining a hydrodynamic body designed for speed, warm body temperature, and a set of snaggly teeth, the mako uses its abilities to capture other speedy fish including tuna.
The bronze medal is a toss up for Team billfish, with the black marlin and swordfish registering exceptional speeds - perhaps even beating mako sharks. But it's an open field with other contenders including yellowfin tuna, wahoo, blue sharks and bonefish.
Boxing and martial arts - the fighters
Gold: Mantis shrimp
The peacock mantis shrimp enters the ring with a punch unmatched in the animal kingdom. It’s ‘smashing’ claws deliver one of the fastest blows ever recorded, a roundhouse delivering 15,000 newtons or more than 2,500 times the shrimp’s weight. Compare that to a punch from Mike Tyson clocking in at 5,600N and you’ll understand why the mantis shrimp is our favourite…
Silver: Titan triggerfish
For sheer aggression and fighting chutzpah, the titan triggerfish takes the medal! During mating season, female triggerfish lay their eggs in a shallow nest, dug into the coral rubble. Anything approaching the nest - particularly in a cone-shaped territory above the eggs - will be attacked and driven away. And being bigger than the triggerfish will not deter her - divers are just as likely to be attacked as tiny damselfish.
Bronze: Mosaic boxer crab
Although not a match for the mantis shrimp, the boxer crab comes in at third place, simply because it is the only crab that comes equipped with its own boxing gloves! These tiny crabs found on tropical reefs in the Indo-Pacific region carry tiny anemones in each of their front claws, waving them at any potential threats.
High Jump - highest and most powerful
A surprise contender for the top marine athlete, the tiny copepod’s escape jump is the most powerful ever recorded - 10 times stronger than any other species, once its tiny size is taken into account. At just 1mm in length, the power-to-weight ratio of a copepod is like nothing else in the ocean - or on land.
A more familiar favourite, dolphins are famous for their acrobatic displays, leaping and spinning above the surface of the ocean. Bottlenose dolphins breaches can hit 4.9m, or 16ft, but spinner dolphins take the top spot with leaps of 5.4m, or 17ft - and they get a few extra points for their barreling style.
Bronze: Devil ray
While they might not reach the heights of dolphins, devil rays are our bronze medal winners for the sheer exuberance of their jumping. Every year in the Sea of Cortez, Mexico, thousands of these mobula rays gather to mate and launch themselves in graceful arcs through the air - although the belly flop landings leave a lot to be desired...
Diving - the deepest
Gold: Cuvier’s beaked whale
Although the deep ocean is filled with species adapted to life in the abyss, very few animals can descend from the surface to extreme depths - and get back alive. Enter the elusive Cuvier’s beaked whale! This deep diving star can reach depths of 2,999m, or 9815ft, at pressures so extreme the whale’s lungs collapse and the rib cage folds.
Silver: Sperm whale
The famous sperm whale beats out other species for the second spot with its well established reputation for dizzying descents into the depths. These whales regularly dive beyond 1000m, or 3280ft, but have been recorded at depths of 2250m, or 7380ft, where they hunt giant squid and other prey species.
Bronze: Southern elephant seals
These heavyweight Antarctic pinnipeds take the bronze for exceptional dives. Regularly reaching depths of 400 - 1000m, or 1,300 - 3,330ft, one individual was recorded at a maximum depth of 2,388m, or 7,835ft - beating most other whale species better known for their diving skills.
Marathon - the longest migrations
Gold: North pacific grey whale
Team cetacean takes another gold for the longest migration of any ocean species - a marine marathon by a north Pacific grey whale, named Varvara by scientists. This female left the cold waters of Sakhalin Island in Russia, and arrived at Cabo San Lucas in Mexico 172 days later - a journey of 22,511km, or 14,000 miles!
Silver: Humpback whale
Every year, humpback whales migrate between breeding areas near the equator and polar feeding grounds, clocking up huge distances. A population of whales was tracked as they migrated from Antarctica to Costa Rica, where they gave birth, then turned around and headed south - a round trip of 16,600km, or 10,200 miles.
Bronze: Leatherback turtle
The elusive leatherback is the largest of the seven species of marine turtle, and also the greatest traveler. Like other turtles, they migrate between feeding grounds and nesting beaches - and one individual crossed an ocean to lay her eggs, traveling from Indonesia to Oregon, and starting back again before her signal was lost. A possible journey of over 12,00 miles, or 19,300km.
Shooting - the deadliest
Gold: Broadclub cuttlefish
Cuttlefish have 8 arms, and 2 elongated tentacles equipped with suckers used to catch its prey. Whilst also a master of camouflage, the broadclub cuttlefish can switch to a mesmerising display of colour changes as it stalks its prey, before shooting out its tentacles in just 20-40ms - faster than a blinking eye!
Silver: Pistol shrimp
The underwater equivalent of a .44 magnum, the pistol shrimp’s secret weapon is hidden in its enlarged claw. When prey gets close enough, the shrimp snaps its claw and unleashes a wave of pressure so powerful the water vaporises, stunning its prey in the process! Our favourite pistol shrimp? Synalpheus pinkfloydi, named after the famous band - and a lot louder at 210 decibels.
Bronze: Cone shell
The bronze goes to cone shells, a family of over 500 species known for their beautiful, patterned shells - and incredible skills with a javelin-like harpoon. This slow moving snail carefully approaches its prey, and once in striking distance, fires off the harpoon and pumps a powerful poison into its victim. The snail then simply swallows the fish or worm whole - not something you see every day on the Olympic field...