By: Katie Gillis
Hitchhiking can sometimes be an easier method of travel for people. However, in the ocean, hitchhiking is more than just a free ride!
There are many different reasons marine hitchhikers pick up rides and even more ways that they do. It’s time to investigate some of the ocean’s ultimate hitchhikers and the reasons behind their innovative form of transportation.
Let us begin with the obvious. Many aquatic hitchhikers are along for the ride. Simply put, they are able to travel more efficiently while hitchhiking than on their own.
Recent research has shown that Finding Nemo may have been pretty close to the truth when it comes to loggerhead hitchhikers on the East Australia Current (EAC). In fact, the EAC was found to play a critical role in the transportation of loggerhead hatchlings between habitats in the Southern Pacific Ocean. The current acts as somewhat of a highway for the turtles, allowing for quick transfer.
Some species hitchhike to conquer new territories. These organisms often stow away in ship ballast water, allowing them to invade new areas and establish themselves among the native flora and fauna.
Oftentimes these invasive species will outcompete native plant and animal species, leading to instability in the ecosystem.
Zebra mussels are a good example of this. These harmful aquatic hitchhikers can spread to other inland areas in either their immature form as veliger larvae suspended in ballast water, or as adults attached to the hull of boats and ships. Some hitchhikers are just out to explore and conquer.
Other aquatic hitchhikers, such as the remora, tag along for another reason: food. Remoras can often be seen attached to sharks, whales, turtles, tuna, and other large marine organisms.
This symbiotic relationship works to both species’ advantage. The remora gets grub in the form of parasites and leftovers, and the other organism gets the benefit of staying healthy and clean.
Talk about a win-win situation!
Lastly, some hitchhikers just enjoy, well, hitchhiking. It was originally thought that dolphins rode the bow wave of large vessels to travel more efficiently from one area to another. While this may hold true in some cases, there are also many documented cases in which dolphins ride the bow wave one direction, then race over to another large vessel traveling the opposite direction.
This behavior is well documented and has led many researchers to believe that they do this activity for pure enjoyment. Who wouldn’t want to body surf a large pressure wave in front of a tanker ship?
Whether it’s for travel or territory, food or fun, aquatic animals have proven to be the ultimate hitchhikers. So stick out a fin or flipper and grab a ride (metaphorically speaking, of course).
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