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Meet the Real Ocean Animals of The Little Mermaid

Discover the wildlife stars of this iconic Disney film

Gregory-Piper_Ocean-Image-Bank
© Gregory Piper/ Ocean Image Bank

There aren’t many movies that make me want to sing as much as the classic Disney princess film The Little Mermaid. From “Under the Sea” to “Part of Your World,” this fin-credible 1989 animated production boasts a cast with some characters based on real ocean species … but, I have to say, some of them might be surprising. Is Sebastian really a crab? Does Flounder’s name reflect his actual species? Well friend, you’re about to find out. Take a deep dive and meet four of the real marine species behind the wildlife cast of The Little Mermaid!

Sebastian

A crab on a rock
© Francesco Ungaro

While many viewers have considered this curt Jamaican crustacean to be some sort of crab, there have been arguments to the contrary, suggesting that he’s actually a lobster. According to the science, it’s probably most accurate to call him a crab. Sebastian doesn’t appear to boast the pairs of antennae that lobster species have, nor does he have a very long tail. What may best illustrate that he’s a crab: his color. If Sebastian were a lobster and bright red in color … well, he wouldn’t be alive. Only cooked lobsters take on this vibrant appearance; they’re much more muted in color and have more brownish or orangish hues under water.

Flounder

An angel fish in the ocean
© Bob Mars: Creative Commons

While we’re on the topic of species drama … this one might make you chuckle. Flounder, Ariel’s loyal and brightly colored companion, is most definitely not a flounder. There appears to be a consensus that Flounder is more than likely some type of angelfish or some other similar vibrantly colored reef fish. Though the exact species has never been agreed upon, it’s safe to say two things for sure: Flounder is probably an angelfish, but most definitely not a flounder.

Flotsam + Jetsam

Two eels in the ocean
© Katerina Katopis/ Ocean Image Bank

These two slithery sidekicks to the lead villainess in The Little Mermaid, Ursula, are a pair of moray eels. Within the moray family, there are actually around 200 species, with new species being discovered currently. These elusive critters are cutthroat predators: They not only have incredibly strong teeth, but have two sets of jaws, with one in the back of their throats called pharyngeal jaws. Once they latch onto their prey with their primary jaws, the second set of jaws pulls the meal back into the eel’s esophagus. No wonder Ursula sent these slimy invertebrates to do some of her dirty work!

Scuttle

Seagull on a beach calling out
© Peter F. Wolf

This goofy character is a seagull (this one may not be so surprising). With more than 50 species of gulls distributed worldwide, it’s a bit difficult to nail down exactly what kind of gull Scuttle is supposed to be. Regardless, one fun fact about seagulls in general is that they have the unique ability to drink seawater. While saltwater can cause rapid dehydration in humans, gulls have supraorbital glands above their eyes with the job of removing salt from their blood. This desalination process helps them to be experts when it comes to survival at sea.

There you have it, folks: four of the actual ocean animals behind some of the stars of The Little Mermaid. Other than being cast members of this Disney film, there’s one other thing that all these species have in common: They’re all counting on us to protect them and their ocean home. Be sure to visit Ocean Conservancy’s Action Center to discover the latest ways you can advocate today for our blue planet and all its resident wildlife!

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