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16.1: Animals in the Pelagic Environment

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    Animals in the Pelagic Environment

    This chapter focuses on higher-level organisms in the marine environment, specifically vertebrates, all of which are pelagic animals that can swim (or fly) in the open ocean or coastal marine environments. (The previous Chapter 15 focuses on invertebrates - most of which are either attached or live on or with the seabed (the benthic environment).


    Vertebrates are a large group of animals distinguished by the possession of a backbone or spinal column. They belong in the taxa:

    Kingdom Animalia
    Phylum Chordates
    Subphylum Vertebrata
    Fish fossil from Wyoming
    Figure 16.1. This Wyoming fish fossil displays a well preserved backbone (spinal column), common to all vertebrates.

    Classes in Vertabrata in the Marine Environment

    CLASS Examples
    Mammalia Whales, seals, sea lions, otters, polar bears (mammals)
    Amphibia Frogs, salamanders (amphibians are rare in marine environments but a few species exist in near-marine settings)
    Reptilia Snakes, turtles, lizards (crocodillians, iguanas)
    Aves Birds
    Osteichthyes Fish with bony skeletons
    Chondrichthyes Fish with cartilage skeletons- sharks (very old fish with cartilage, some are up to 280 million years old)

    Example of the Taxonomy of Whales


    Example: Taxonomy of Whales

    kingdom kingdom: Animalia
    phylum phylum: Chordata
    (subphylum: vertebrata)
    class class: Mammalia
    order order: Cetacea
    family Mysteceti (mustache whales)
    Odontoceti (toothed whales)
    Archeoceti (ancient whales - now extinct)
    genus one or several genus within families
    species one or more species within a genus

    Characteristics of All Marine Mammals

    • Land-dwelling ancestors
    • Warm-blooded
    • Breathe air
    • Hair/fur
    • Bear live young
    • Mammary glands for milk
    Figure 16.2. Are humans marine vertebrates?

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