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Life Under The Sea, Under Attack

From coral reefs to beluga whales, the members of our watery world are facing a litany of threats. Explore each of these species.

  • Sea Turtle

    While Hawai‘i’s green sea turtle population has increased in recent years, they are still threatened from poaching, death by fishing gear and from fibropapilloma disease.

    NOAA, Doug Perrine / Seapics.coms
  • Dugong1

    Cousins to the Florida manatee, dugongs are relaxed, sensitive marine mammals that may have been the inspiration for maritime tales of mermaids and sirens.

    Matthijs Rouw
  • Dugong2

    Hunted for their meat, oil, skin and bones, dugong populations are tenuous, especially in their northernmost range among the coral reefs of Okinawa, Japan, where in 2008 the U.S. military tried to force the Japanese government to build a new airbase on a reef used by endangered dugongs for feeding and resting.

    Ben Cropp
  • Coral Reef

    The "rainforests of the ocean," coral reefs are biodiversity hotspots that make up less than 1 percent of the marine environment but are home to 25 percent of the ocean’s marine life.

    Fascinating Universe
  • Coral Garden

    Coral reefs are extremely vulnerable to warmer waters and acidification brought on by climate change, leading scientists to predict that places like Australia’s Great Barrier Reef may not survive past this century without significant carbon reductions.

    Acropora coral garden with giant clam. Raging Horn, Osprey Reef, Coral Sea.

    Richard Ling
  • Antarctic Krill

    One of the true unsung heroes of the oceans, Antarctic krill form the base of the incredibly rich Antarctic food chain by playing a vital role in feeding many Antarctic inhabitants, such as whales, penguins, seals, seabirds and squid.

    Antarctic krill, such as this specimen in the Weddell Sea with a stomach full of yellow algae, are a critical link in the ocean food web.

    Maiabee / Flickr
  • Antarctic Krill 2

    The survival of Antarctic krill greatly depends on the availability of pack ice for protection and food, which will become scarcer as climate change increases sea ice melt.

    Scientist studying krill at the Antarctic Peninsula.

    Dr. David Demer, NOAA/NMFS/SWFSC/AMLR
  • Atlantic Lobster

    An enduring New England icon, the Atlantic lobster has long been a mainstay of local economies and livelihoods along the northeast coast.

    Gary Libby, a fisherman in Port Clyde, ME, inspects a lobster.

    Raviya Ismail / Earthjustice
  • Atlantic Lobster 2

    Though they have a tough-looking exterior, these crustaceans are really vulnerable to catching diseases in warmer waters—a problem that will only heat up as ocean temperatures rise.

    The lobsters' claws, used for catching and crushing prey can be regenerated if lost, as in the case here. In Woods Hole, MA.

    Dann Blackwood and Page Valentine, USGS
  • Northern Bluefin Tuna

    The giant northern Bluefin tuna is one of the top predators of the ocean, in part by swimming up to 30 miles per hour when pursuing prey and possessing the ability to regulate its own body temperature.

  • Northern Bluefin Tuna

    Already severely threatened by over fishing, the bluefin tuna will find it more difficult to build up energy reserves necessary to make the long journey to their spawning grounds as sardines, herring and other prey move into different waters in response to global warming.

    NOAA Fisheries Service
  • Pacific Salmon

    One of the most enduring icons of the Pacific Northwest, Pacific salmon have been the lifeblood of generations of fishermen and are an integral part of communities up and down the West coast.

    U.S. FWS Pacific
  • Bear and Salmon

    Pacific salmon are faced with a multitude of threats, including the construction of “fish-killing” dams, pesticide exposure, and rising stream and ocean temperatures that threaten the cold water species’ survival.

  • Green Turtle

    Named after the green color of the fat found beneath its shell, the green sea turtle spends much of its 80-year lifespan plying the tropical and subtropical waters of the world’s oceans and feeding off of seagrass that grows in shallow lagoons.

  • Baby Green Turtle

    Rising sea levels and warmer temperatures from global warming may submerge many of the beaches green sea turtles rely on to lay their eggs and swing the balance toward female turtles since temperatures help determine the gender of incubating eggs.

    Manuel Emha
  • Beluga Whale

    One of the smallest whale species, the extremely social beluga lives in pods that usually have about a dozen members but can grow to hundreds of individuals.

    Steve Snodgrass
  • Beluga Whale 2

    Unfortunately, belugas sit at the top of an ailing food chain that relies on sea ice, which is melting rapidly due to climate change.

  • Hawaiian Monk Seal

    The Hawaiian monk seal, with folds of skin reminiscent of a monk’s hood, dives hundreds of feet to feed and is found only in the Hawaiian Islands.

    Frederic Trudeau
  • Hawaiian Monk Seal

    One of the rarest mammals in the world, the monk seal uses isolated beaches for resting, molting, and rearing its young, which rising sea levels from global warming are threatening to flood and wash out, leaving the monk seals with few alternatives to survive.

    Frederic Trudeau
  • Walrus

    Easily recognized by its two long, white tusks, walruses are expert swimmers, spending days at sea feeding before using their long tusks to pull themselves onto sea ice, where they join hundreds of other walruses to rest.

    U.S. FWS Headquarters
  • Walrus

    Walruses greatly rely on sea ice to recover their strength when they forage in shallow waters, so as climate change causes sea ice to retreat walruses are being forced to choose between rest and food.

    U.S. FWS Headquarters
  • Southern Resident Orca

    Puget Sound’s iconic Southern Resident orcas have resided in the area’s waters for thousands of years, surviving on a rich and abundant salmon population.

  • Southern Resident Orca

    Though they have no natural predators, the Southern Resident orca population continues to struggle to recover from a multitude of threats like toxic contamination and dwindling salmon supplies.

  • Steller Sea Lion

    Alaska’s Steller sea lions are powerful, playful creatures that, though rowdy on land, are gracefully adept at moving through the area’s icy waters to eat pollock, an important food source.

  • Steller Sea Lion 2

    Despite past conservation measures, the western stock of Steller sea lions has declined by almost 90 percent from their historic levels, perhaps, in part, due to a similar decline in Atka mackerel and Pacific cod by large commercial bottom trawlers.

    Hans Splinter
  • Narwhal

    Also known as "sea unicorns" for their famous tusks, the narwhal is uniquely suited to life in the Arctic, feeding on flatfish and other prey at depths of up to 1500 meters under pack ice.

    Kristin Laidre / NOAA
  • Narwhal 2

    Like all whales, narwhals need to surface for air, but as global warming causes more rainstorms in the Arctic, open areas of water can quickly turn into impenetrable ice sheets, preventing the narwhal from gasping for breath.

  • gray Whale

    Often longer than a school bus and weighing 30 to 40 tons, gray whales consume bottom-dwelling crustaceans and krill by turning on their sides and scooping up huge amounts of sediment from the sea floor.

    Sequoia Hughes
  • Gray Whale 2

    Rises in sea temperature have degraded the gray whale’s Arctic feeding grounds so that a food supply formerly estimated to support 90,000 whales can no longer feed even the estimated 22,000 roaming the Pacific Ocean, resulting in more cases of thin adults and dying calves.

    Ryan Harvey
  • Humpback Whale

    Humpback whales are best known for their enchanting songs, which are made using a series of moans and howls and are most likely used for communication and to attract mates.

    NOAA’s National Ocean Service
  • Humpback Whale 2

    Though powerful swimmers, humpback whales can’t outswim the multiple threats of longline fishing, sonar testing and Arctic oil drilling that jeopardize the already endangered species.


Plagued by a multitude of ailments, the ocean’s ability to cope with a changing environment is severely compromised. The ocean’s underwater creatures are swimming against the tide of multiple environmental stressors.

In this photo slideshow, learn about just a few of the wildlife who are at risk and the threats they face

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