The Whalebone Field Guide to Strange & Unusual Sea Life

There’s a whole weird, wet world out there

In partnership with The Ocean Agency. The non-profit creative agency of record for the ocean.

Illustrations by Brittany Norris

We’re not going to get into how much of the Earth’s surface is covered in water or how little we know about the depths of the ocean when compared to the surface of the moon because we want to get right into telling you all about all the strange and alien life that lived in it.

Illustration by Brittany Norris of a weedy seadragon

Weedy Seadragon

World icon Rocky reefs along the southern coastline of Australia
Info icon Neither an actual dragon nor a horse nor a weed

Despite being weedy, the ladies love their male counterparts—for good reason—it’s the males that get pregnant and give birth to the baby dragons.

Moray Eel

World icon All tropical and subtropical seas
Info icon Literally ties itself in knots to flush prey out of small spaces

When little fish have nightmares, it’s usually about moray eels. Once it bites a fish, the second set of jaws flies out and pulls the fish inside. If you’ve seen Alien, you get the idea.

By-the-Wind Sailor

World icon West Coast of North America, East Coast of North America, and Western Europe
Info icon Don’t call it a jellyfish, they hate that

A hydrozoan (a class of predatory animals, distantly related to corals, sea anemones, and jellies) that lives on the surface of the water in colonies. Each individual has a triangular “sail” that protrudes from its back—some angled to the port side, some to starboard so they don’t all get stranded by storms

Illustration by Brittany Norris of a Narwhal


World icon Way up north in the Arctic Ocean
Info icon Actually a real animal

This dolphinesque unicorn might be far more famous if its name wasn’t quite so Icelandic and its appearance quite so mythical.

Cheerleader Crab

World icon Hawaii
Info icon Not the most popular

To protect themselves from predators, cheerleader crabs pick up stinging anemones and wave them around like pom poms. It’s very encouraging looking when you’re halfway through a dive. 

Sea Spider

World icon Everywhere, mac
Info icon They have no gills, no lungs, no organs for breathing at all

Just your standard-issue, creepy, crawly, underwater, swimming nightmare fuel that sucks the life out of its prey, inhabits every ocean in the world, and can grow to the size of a dinner plate. 

Angler Fish

World icon Mostly in North Atlantic Ocean
Info icon Can camouflage themselves as rocks, sponges, or seaweed

Shallow-water anglerfish are the ocean’s speed-eating champions. They can eat a fish twice their size in exactly half a split second. It’s impressive.

Illustration by Brittany Norris of a glaucus atlanticus

Glaucus Atlanticus

World icon The Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans in temperate and tropical waters
Info icon Best admired from afar

Might sound like a Roman gladiator’s name, which is appropriate for this certified badass sea slug that hunts  Portuguese man o’ war jellyfish and steals their stingers to use later as weapons.

Illustration by Brittany Norris of a clown triggerfish

Clown Triggerfish

World icon Throughout the Indo-Pacific
Info icon Fond of quoting Joe Pesci in Goodfellas

Build nests on the ocean floor and any large creature that passes them gets a headbutt

Illustration by Brittany Norris of a yeti crab

Yeti Crab

World icon Hot ocean vents near Antarctica
Info icon Nothing to do with the coolers

The only known huggable crab in the long history of crabs. Also, eats bacteria that are fertilized on their own leg hairs.

Illustration by Brittany Norris of a blobfish


World icon Deep waters off of Australia and New Zealand
Info icon Not to be confused with the senator from Texas who prefers to vacation in Cancun when his state is experiencing a natural disaster

Looking really ugly is clearly a good strategy for not getting eaten. Bet you’ve never seen herb-crusted blobfish on a menu.

Illustration by Brittany Norris of a dumbo octopus

Dumbo Octopus

World icon Way down in the deep Pacific ocean
Info icon Voted the cutest deep-sea creature every year since its discovery

They use their ear-like fins to propel themselves through the water and navigate currents. No feather required.

Clown Fish

World icon Warmer waters of Pacific and Indian Oceans
Info icon She’s the boss

All clownfish are born male but actually possess the ability to change sex. The change is irreversible (but then why would they want to reverse such a smart move?).

Paper Nautilus

World icon Subtropic and tropic waters at surface level
Info icon We’re going with the detachable penis thing here

The most beautiful Nautilus are the ones with paper-thin shells. The only downside is they’re too fragile to have any contact with the opposite sex. Fortunately, they have evolved detachable swimming penises.


World icon Found in shallow tropical seas and estuaries of the Atlantic Ocean
Info icon Can grow as large as 20 feet long

It’s hard to imagine that the sawfish doesn’t wish that it was a shark. Having teeth on your nose makes chewing challenging.

Illustration by Brittany Norris of a flying fish

Flying Fish

World icon Over your head
Info icon Can glide in the air for as far as 650 feet

For some reason, a fish that can fly is a lot more impressive than a bird that can swim.

Illustration by Brittany Norris of a venus flower basket

Venus Flower Basket

World icon Deep on the ocean floor near the Philippine Islands
Info icon Smarter than the techs at Verizon

Ahead of their time, these sponges contain glass-like structures that transmit light better than our best fibre optic cables, inspiring next-gen technology.

Illustration by Brittany Norris of a pearl fish

Pearl Fish

World icon Tropical sea cucumbers’ butts
Info icon They live in the butts of sea cucumbers

Yeah, that’s about it. Just the butt thing.


World icon Mostly between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn
Info icon Blows most other creatures away with its superpowers

After half a billion years of evolution, it can clone itself and technically live forever. It can turn seawater into stone and build giant cities that dwarf those built by humans. It can grow its food in its own flesh and even create clouds in the sky to cool itself down. Respect is long overdue.

Cookiecutter Shark

World icon Atlantic and Pacific oceans, from the Bahamas to New Zealand
Info icon “Ice-cream scoop shark” might be a more accurate name

It was a mystery why sharks, dolphins, and other large ocean creatures were spotted with perfectly round cookie-size holes in their side. Then the cookiecutter shark was discovered with a cookie-size set of teeth. Mystery solved.

Christmas Tree Worms

World icon Tropical coral reefs worldwide
Info icon So bizarre and alien it had a non-speaking role in Avatar

Worms on land look like worms. Worms in the ocean get far more creative. It comes in assorted colors and instantly disappears down its hole when approached.

Illustration by Brittany Norris of a blue-ringed octopus

Blue-Ringed Octopus

World icon Sea of Japan to Southern Australia
Info icon The blue rings on these little fellas only appear when they are really pissed—it’s good to remember that

Don’t underestimate these little guys. They have a bite so toxic it’s enough to kill 24 humans despite the octopus being only about 5cm in size. 

Mantis Shrimp

World icon Indian and Pacific Oceans between East Africa and Hawaii
Info icon Nicknamed “thumb splitter”—pick one up and find out why

The mantis shrimp has the fastest punch in the ocean. It’s so fast it strikes at the speed of a .22 bullet. The speed causes the surrounding water to vaporize, exploding their prey. Needless to say, people who put them in their glass aquariums quickly regret the decision.

Galapagos Batfish

World icon Deep waters near, you guessed it, the Galapagos Islands
Info icon Never asked to be the face of Maybelline (not yet anyway)

No that’s not lipstick. Nature likes doing experiments in the Galapagos Islands but arguably went a little too far with this batfish.

Illustration by Brittany Norris of a cuttlefish


World icon Reefs and channels around the globe
Info icon Have not one, not two, but three hearts

Masters of disguise, smaller cuttlefish have been known to cross-dress as females allowing them to avoid the macho fights during mating season, getting their six legs all over the best looking ladies. It’s known as survival of the sneakiest.

Illustration by Brittany Norris of a pineapple fish

Pineapple Fish

World icon Reefs off the coast Western Australia
Info icon Might use bioluminescence to communicate 

When you’re a fish and you look like a pineapple it’s wise to hide from humans. Pineapple fish are usually found hiding in dark caves. They’ve spent so long hiding, they’ve evolved light organs under their eyes they use as torches to find food.

Illustration by Brittany Norris of a mola mola

Mola Mola

World icon Temperate and tropical oceans around the world
Info icon Can weigh more than a car

A fish so odd they named it twice—with an odd name and bizarrely human face to match. At up to 10 feet long is the world’s largest bony fish.