Wildlife in the Transoceanic
As you sail over the Atlantic, our planet's second-largest ocean, remember to look out over the waves to maybe spot some of its incredible biodiversity first-hand.
A river in the ocean
Described by Benjamin Franklin as a “river in the ocean”, the Gulf Stream is a powerful ocean current that has a huge impact on the world’s climate, bringing warm water to northern Europe, which in turn warms the air. Starting in the Gulf of Mexico, this swift-moving current flows along the eastern coastlines of the United States before crossing the Atlantic Ocean and splitting in two, having travelled some 10,000km.
A floating forest
If you ask a sailor or a Caribbean beach-goer about Sargassum seaweed, they’ll likely tell you how much of a nuisance it can be by entangling and slowing ships. However, a marine biologist might instead tell you how these golden seaweed mats float around in tropical parts of the North Atlantic Ocean and provide food and shelter for hatchling sea turtles and over 100 species of fish.
Soaring above the sea
On our transoceanic cruises, you’ll be treated to views of a sapphire sea and many of the creatures that live in it. But don’t forget to look up! The skies above the Atlantic contain a variety of seabird species. Many, like the Bridled Tern and the Brown Noddy, rely on the sea for food and only land briefly to breed.
While sailing between Halifax and Colon, look out for tropical seabirds. You might have an encounter with a booby, which was apparently named after the Spanish word “bobo”, meaning “stupid”, because of its lack of fear when landing on ships, which made it an easy meal for hungry sailors.
Off the coast of South or Central America, look out for frigatebirds soaring above on thin wings, stalking other birds to snatch their prey. This strategy, known as “kleptoparasitism”, allows the frigatebird to expend less energy when foraging, although it requires strong agility. Also called “Man-o’-War” birds, frigatebirds will even harass other birds until they regurgitate food they’ve already eaten, which the frigatebirds will then take for themselves.
When sea and sky meet
You may spot a peculiar fish "flying” over the water. There are 40 species of flying fish, which seem to blur the line between bird and sea creature. They’re an invaluable food source for hungry seabirds out on the open sea, which can pick flying fish off the ocean’s surface as they try to escape from underwater predators.
The “flight” of the flying fish begins underwater, where it picks up speed before breaking the surface, opening its wing-like pectoral fins, while keeping the lower fork of its tail in the water. It then uses the lower fork of its tail to propel itself forward dozens of metres before dropping into the water with a splash. The use of the tail allows it to fly much further than it could by momentum alone.
Always be on the lookout for whales and dolphins! Despite living in the sea, they’re actually mammals, so you might spot one coming to the surface and dramatically blowing water and air through its blowhole. Seeing the spectacular twirls of a spinner dolphin or the smiling face of a bottlenose is sure to make your day.
In the open, tropical ocean, you may spot sea turtles among large mats of sargassum seaweed, or catch a glimpse of one surfacing for air. These shelled reptiles hold their breath for several hours at a time, feeding on eelgrass, crabs, fish, molluscs and other marine animals hundreds of metres below the sea’s surface.
Built-in body armour
Six out of the seven sea turtle species can be easily identified by their iconic hard shell, with its distinctive hexagonal pattern. More than just a fashionable accessory, the turtle’s shell acts as a natural suit of armour. And despite being unable to retract their flippers and heads into their shells, a defence mechanism used by land turtles, the flatter, more streamlined carapace of the sea turtle allows it to cut through the water quickly to evade predators.
The leatherback turtle, however, lacks the hard shell of the others, and is uniquely adapted to tolerate the high pressure and low temperatures of deeper waters. This lets it hunt for jellyfish and other soft-bodied marine animals at depths of over 1km.