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Marine Life in the Gulf of Mexico

Gulf of Mexico Marine Animals and Plants

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The Gulf of Mexico covers about 600,000 square miles. It is bordered by the U.S. states of Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas, part of the Mexican coast, and Cuba. The Gulf of Mexico is important for fishing (recreational and commercial) and also a place for marine life viewing.

The Gulf of Mexico has been in the news recently because of the explosion of the oil rig Deepwater Horizon, which resulted in millions of gallons of oil leaking into the Gulf, threatening marine life, closing fishing areas and halting many human activities, including commercial fishing, in the area of the spill.

1. Marine Mammals

Florida Manatee / USFWSCourtesy Galen Rathbun, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

There are 29 species of marine mammals in the Gulf of Mexico, including cetaceans and sirenians. Cetacean species include minke, blue, fin, sperm whale, orcas, beaked whales and a number of dolphin species, including bottlenose dolphins, the saddle-backed dolphin, striped dolphin and spinner dolphin. The West Indian manatee also inhabits the the Gulf of Mexico.

2. Reptiles

Five of the 7 sea turtle species live in the Gulf of Mexico: the Kemp's ridley, leatherback, loggerhead, green and hawksbill. Alligators also thrive in coastal areas.

3. Marine Invertebrates

With its wide range of habitats, the Gulf of Mexico supports a variety of invertebrate species, including oysters, crabs, shrimp, and snails. Corals, jellyfish, and worms also live here. In deeper areas, tubeworms up to 7 feet long and bivalves chemosynthetically live off of methane and hydrogen sulfide that seep from the ocean floor.

4. Fish

Great Whtie Shark / Getty ImagesStephen Frink / Getty Images

Fish species that live in the Gulf of Mexico include a number of sharks, such as the nurse shark, great white shark, shortfin mako, blue shark, scalloped hammerhead, stingrays (southern stingray, spotted eagle ray, cownose ray), and other fish species, some of which are sought by commercial and recreational fishermen. Other fish species include sawfish, moray eel, American eel, striped mullet, black drum, red drum, seatrout, tarpon, amberjack, Florida pompano, snook, crevalle Jack, cobia, tripletail, snapper, and sheepshead.

5. Birds

The Gulf of Mexico hosts a number of bird species. Many live there year round, while some migrate to this warm location during the winter. Species include native birds such as pelicans, anhingas, frigatebirds, egrets, herons, spoonbills, ibis, and mallard ducks, and wintering species which include the large northern gannet.

6. Marine Algae and Plants

The Gulf of Mexico supports a variety of marine algae and plants. Some of the most important are species of seagrasses, which provide habitat for adult animals such as manatees and sea turtles, and nursery areas for young fish and invertebrates. Along the coast, you'll find mangroves, which also provide important habitat.
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