Ocean Currents

Be My Valentine? A Look at the Ocean’s Lovers, from Long Term to Transient


In honor of Valentine’s Day, we’ve rounded up a crew of ocean companions for you to check out–which ones are fickle lovers and which ones are lifers–the players and the player-haters, as it were. So whether you’re celebrating the notorious day of love with a pint of ice cream or with your favorite spouse, we’ve got a resident of the aquatic world that has a love life similar to yours! Read on to find out who you most align with.

1. French angelfish, Pomacanthus paru

Credit: A pair of French angelfish, by Peter Leahy / Shutterstock

This fish definitely lives up to the romantic French stereotype. Once paired, French angelfish stay together for the rest of their lives. When they reunite after being separated, they will engage in a ritual called “carouseling,” in which they circle around each other–liken it to a fish form of “honey, I’m home!” They don’t like when other fish swim too close either, and one pair can defend an area up to almost the size of a football field (about 5,000 square meters) in order to keep unwanted visitors at bay.

2. Sea otters, Enhydra lutris

You might think that being the social creatures that they are, sea otters would embrace the idea of monogamy–but that’s not the case. Female sea otters seek out males annually, but the mother is the only one to raise the pups.

3. Laysan albatross, Phoebastria immutabilis 

If you met your significant other on a dance floor, your love story is probably closest to the laysan albatross. Primarily living out at sea, they spend 10 months on land during periods of mating. These birds engage in a detailed mating dance in order to find their partners, who they will stay with until one dies (they live for up to 40 years). To take care of the single egg that comes from copulation, they take turns incubating it until it hatches. Ah, dancing and equal babysitting responsibilities, what a great combination.

4. Emperor penguin, Aptenodytes forsteri

Penguins often seem to take the cake when we think of long-term love in the animal kingdom. After the mother lays an egg, the father incubates it for 62-67 days while the mother goes off looking for food. Once the mother returns, the father can go off and hunt for food to replenish all the body weight he’s lost. Once the male returns and the chick is ready (at about four months old), the family leaves the breeding site. Emperor penguin couples, while including descriptions from adorable to devoted, are not always together for the long term. Males return to the mating site earlier than females each year, and some choose new partners instead of waiting for their one from the previous year to arrive. This one’s for you, singles scanning the missed connections section of your local newspaper.

5. California sea lion, Zalophus californianus

This loud social seal can be found in large groups of several hundred when on shore. Their mating habits mirror their gregarious social habits, as males are highly polygamous. One male California sea lion can have up to 14 females in his breeding group!

6. Polar bear, Ursus maritimus

While polar bear mothers have a strong bond with their cubs, they are otherwise fairly solitary animals. When it comes to to mating, though, polar bears will actively seek out a partner. They are polygamous to the point where males will often fight each other over females, even though most polar bear couples will only stay together for about a week. This one, naturally, is for those of you who have gone on a few dates with someone, but are definitely not dating–that’s what you tell your friends anyway, right?

7. Angler fish Lophius piscatorious

The love life of the angler fish is one that will have you realize yours really isn’t that bad–especially if you’re a guy. A male will search for a female once he is born, and once he finds her, his life is pretty much complete. He will attach his teeth to the female’s body and fuse to her, thereby providing a source of sperm for reproduction and no other function. If you want more information on this strange relationship, skip to 1:35 in this accompanying National Geographic video.

Didn’t expect that last curve ball, did you?

This handful of examples shows that marine animals’ love lives can be just as complex as ours. Whatever the case, happy Valentine’s day! If you’re looking to spread the love today, try sending our Valentine’s e-cards to a friend or loved one!

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