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Ocean Currents

Ocean Animals that Glow Up

These creatures take “New Year, New Me” seriously

StarfishPebbleBeach_PanWinegar
© Pam Winegar(Starfish Pebble Beach)

I love the possibility at the edge of a new year. You don’t know what adventures you will go on or how you will change; everything is possible. While “New Year, New Me” is a bit of a cliché at this point, the ocean teaches us that radical transformation is possible. Throughout their lives many ocean animals shed parts of themselves in order to live healthier. From exfoliation routines to mind-blowing regeneration, let’s take a deep dive into the Cinderella stories happening every day beneath the waves.

Lobsters

Lobster in the ocean
© Ead72/Fotolia

The number one rule of underwater polite society is that you never ask a lobster to tell its age. Even scientists have a hard time telling how old these crustaceans are due to their splendid beauty hack: the molt. Any physical signs of ageing are wiped away every few years when a lobster ditches its old exoskeleton in favor of a new one. Molting isn’t easy though. Between 10 and 15 percent of all crustaceans die during the process from the exertion alone. Molting isn’t the only way lobsters defy age. Lobsters continue to grow throughout their lives, show few signs of weakening or deterioration of the body, and exhibit none of the changes in reproduction or eating habits common in many animals as they age. This could be because a high supply of the enzyme telomerase which extends a cell’s life and prevents the natural process of breaking down over time. For a lobster, age really is just a number.

Sea Star

Sea Star
© Ron Watkins

Anyone who has ever spent some time in a cast knows that our limbs can be a real pain sometimes. That’s a pain sea stars will never know because they can regenerate their appendages. If one of their limbs was removed or eaten, they can start growth on a new one which can take up to a year or longer. In fact, since some sea stars have their internal organs in their arms, they are capable of regrowing their whole bodies from a single remaining limb. That’s not the only trick a sea star has up its sleeve: Researchers made a shocking discovery when they tried to inject these little creatures with microchips to track them. They came back to find the microchips floating at the bottom of the tank and the sea stars were chip free. Apparently, the sea stars were able to eject foreign bodies out of the tips of their arms.  “This is roughly equivalent to getting rid of a bullet lodged between your lungs by squeezing it out through your forehead, all without leaving a mark,” said one member of the team working on this research. If a sea star could talk, I’d bet its first words would be something along the lines of “My body is a temple.”

Whales

Whale in the ocean
© Steven Kazlowski

All mammals shed their skin or fur, including us humans. For whales, the search for healthier skin can take them thousands of miles. Scientists found that the frigid waters of the Arctic made it hard for some whales to shed their skin. This could explain why many whales head for warmer waters; it’s an opportunity to maintain their healthy skin by molting. Bowhead whales are known to rub up against boulders to exfoliate and shake off the dead skin. Beluga whales have a similar “day spa” in the Arctic’s Cunningham Inlet where they use mud, pebbles and rocks to ensure their skin glows. If you are looking for inspiration to take a “me day” for some self-care, look no further than these whales.

Sea Squirt

Sea Squirt
© Nick Hobgood

Do you have any friends who are constantly reinventing themselves? For the animal kingdom, that friend is a sea squirt. Sea Squirts may look like plants, but they are, in fact, tube-shaped animals that can come in a variety of shapes and brilliant colors. They are masters at regeneration, making an entirely new body each week. Researchers found one sea squirt was dissected into three parts, and each part regenerated into a new sea squirt. But wait, there’s more! In a trick to make a sea star jealous, sea squirts can regenerate themselves from fragments of blood vessels. These little guys don’t keep their healing properties to themselves. Sea squirts have been used to develop drugs that fight cancer and could even help treat COVID-19. Let’s give it up for the sea squirts who are almost guaranteed not to be recognized at their ten-year high school reunion.

Bonus: Sea Slug

Green and White Sea Slug
© Susanne Skyrm

If you’ve talked to me in the past year, I’ve definitely brought up sea slug decapitation, regardless of whether or not it relates at all to the topic we’re discussing. That’s because I think it is the coolest piece of science to emerge and truly a mind-blowing ocean fact. These shocking beauties can ditch their bodies when they are looking rough and regrow new ones. They have a “breakage plane” or a groove around their necks just in case they need to snap off and try a new look. Sea slugs cannot be beat when it comes to the lengths they will go for a glow up.

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