Feeding Strategies of Marine Animals: Types & Examples

Instructor: Yuanxin (Amy) Yang Alcocer

Amy has a master's degree in secondary education and has taught math at a public charter high school.

Marine animals find food in many different ways. Two of these methods include suspension and deposit feeding. Here, you can know more about various animals' specific feeding strategies. Also, learn what happens in a balanced marine feeding ecosystem.

Suspension Feeding

Picture the underworld environment in the oceans. There are coral reefs, small fishes, and really large mammals such as whales. Some actively chase, kill, and then eat their prey, while other animals use different methods to eat.

One such method is called suspension feeding, the eating of food suspended in the water. There are two ways that a marine animal can feed using this method. One is through active suspension feeding where the animal actively moves about in search of suspended food. The other is called passive suspension feeding where the animal remains stationary and simply waits for the suspended food to go into its mouth. That's right. Believe it or not, some marine animals don't move at all their whole lives and are able to live through suspension feeding just by waiting for food to come into their mouths.

Suspension Feeders

Perhaps, the most well-known of the giant suspension feeders is the whale shark. Called a gentle giant, the whale shark is actually the largest living fish in the world that feeds on tiny organisms such as plankton suspended in ocean waters. The whale shark swims through ocean waters and when it finds suspended organisms in the water, it opens its mouth and begins to filter the ocean water, keeping only the organisms that it eats and letting everything else out. Because the whale shark actively travels for its food, it is an active suspension feeder.

A whale shark
marine feeding strategies

An example of a passive suspension feeder is the anemone. Anemones typically attach themselves to a piece of coral and stay there waving its arms around until it finds a piece of suspended food in the waters.

Deposit Feeding

The other method of feeding, deposit feeding, occurs when marine animals feed on the detritus, the ooze that covers sand, rocks, and mud. This ooze is made up of algae, diatoms, and decaying pieces of other animals. Deposit feeders are able to sift through the sand, rocks, and mud to separate and eat the nutritious ooze that is there.

Deposit Feeders

Common examples of deposit feeders are crab. Crabs have claws that allow them to work with sand, rocks, and mud to get to the detritus, the ooze containing their food.

A crab
marine feeding strategies

Another example is the snail. As snails make their way on the ocean floor, they eat the detritus which they pass upon. Instead of having claws to separate the ooze, the snail simply ingests it all and then lets the unwanted material out through the other end of their bodies, leaving behind a trail of excreted unwanted material.

Gross Ecological Efficiency

When a marine ecosystem is balanced, there is just enough food for everybody. Starting at the top of the food chain and going down, there is no wasted food, so to speak. For example, whale sharks eat plankton and other small organisms in the oceans. When everything is balanced, the plankton and small organisms that haven't been eaten are just enough to eat the food that remains for them.

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