The oceanopedia is here to entertain and inspire about the world’s oceans

Thought 'Blue Planet' told you all there was to know about the ocean? Marine biologist Tom Hird begs to differ

I wasn’t always the ‘The Blowfish, The World’s Only Heavy Metal Marine Biologist’. I started out at the age of eight or nine as a terrified boy called Tom, who had been tricked into watching a very famous shark film… Jaws. The impact that film had on my life was enormous! I was so afraid of a shark coming and getting me as I slept, that I started to read up on them ‘just in case’.

This urge, combined with my already ingrained love of animals, led me to start exploring all that was wet, wonderful and weird. By the time I was 12, I was deeply in love with sharks and all the ocean’s wonders. I knew then that I had to become a marine biologist and help protect the seas.

The oceans have seemingly always been under threat. While it has recently become popular and newsworthy, issues with overfishing, pollution, whaling and shark finning have been rife for years. So, during my university years I decided that the best way I could help fight this battle would be to get my voice out there and rally from the front. I left university and started on a quest to save the seas, and so ‘The Blowfish’ was born.

As you learn more about the seas, you quickly realise how minor terrestrial plants and animals are to this blue planet we call home. It is the oceans which regulate our climate, bringing us vital sun or rain, and provide us with the vast majority of our oxygen. If the oceans fail, then we all fail. Growing up, saving the rainforest was big news, but ocean conservation didn’t even make the papers and so the fight to bring crucial planet-saving issues to light has not been easy. This is why I work to educate and enthral when it comes to the seas. If people care about something, then they will act to save it, but it’s hard to care about something if you don’t know it exists.

That’s the point of Blowfish’s Oceanopedia. It’s not meant to be a textbook or a tome of depressing facts and hard-sell conservation. It’s a straight-talking, short-reading ‘pub guide’ to marine biology, aiming to educate, entertain and inspire. I mean, who couldn’t be enamoured with something like a hagfish?

The hagfish, or ‘slime eel’, is an ancient fish without ‘proper’ jaws. Its mouth resembles two cheese graters arranged on their sides. When the hagfish grabs its dinner, its teeth clamp together and hold fast – removing its ability to chew. So, using its incredibly flexible body, it ties itself into a knot and pushes against its victim’s flesh to rip a piece away. We used to believe these animals were only scavengers, until a deep sea ROV (remote-operated vehicle) spotted one hunting.

To hunt, the hagfish sits in a vertical burrow and waits for its prey to swim past above. Once a target is sighted, the hagfish streaks out and grabs the prey in those vice-like ‘jaws’, pulling it down into its burrow. But before it can start feeding, it must finish its hapless victim off. Limited by its immobile jaws, the hagfish uses an unconventional strategy: snot. And so, the ‘Slime Eel’ earns its nickname. hagfish can make buckets of thick mucus on demand, and I really do mean buckets. It uses the slime to fill up its burrow with suffocating snot and, in doing so, drowns its dinner while it is firmly held in place.

Small and slimy not your thing? Consider the bowhead whale, the only whale to truly overwinter in the freezing Arctic Ocean. It has the thickest blubber layer of any whale compared to its size and can even get too hot living in the freezing seawater of the North Pole. So, it has a special way to cool down. In the roof of its mouth it has a large spongy tissue, which can be flooded with blood, causing it to expand and enlarge. Sound familiar? That’s because this tissue mimics the same tissue found in the male mammalian penis. When fully engorged, the whale can open its mouth and allow icy seawater to swirl around this blood filled organ, rapidly cooling its internal body temperature.

Now, after learning that a bowhead whale has a penis in its mouth and a hagfish might kill you with snot you are already on your way to seeing just how incredible the underwater world is. But this hidden universe of mysteries is in danger. It needs saving and you don’t need to be a marine biologist to do it. So, do take a look at the website for the Marine Conservation Society to see what you can do today!

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Blowfish’s Oceanopedia: 291 Extraordinary Things You Didn’t Know About the Sea by Tom ‘The Blowfish’ Hird is out now (Atlantic Books, £9.99)