Indian River Lagoon “Sea Creature” of the Month

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7 8 2013 Jungle 052

7 8 2013 Jungle 053

“Sea Creature” of the Indian River Lagoon
While enjoying an exploratory tour the other morning, we came upon one of nature’s most unique sea animal’s right here in the Indian River Lagoon, just south of the South Hutchinson Island Bridge.
We not only saw one of these creatures, but about five or six in one area, and we see them on our motorized kayak tours all the time, probably because we are low to the water.
They look somewhat like floating kelp or seaweed, until you see them move on two wing-like appendages in a graceful, ballet. They are called “Sea Hares” (Aplysia morio) and they look like they are a cross between a sting ray and an octopus.
The Sea Hare, sometimes called slug or squirt, is the most commonly encountered of the sea hare species in Florida. This graceful, surface swimming slug is usually encountered near the shore around sea grass beds, beaches, seawalls or near dock pilings feeding on algae. This species is actually a soft-bodied mollusk (they have a small shell inside their body) that can reach 8 to 10 inches. The sea hare pictured above was about 6 inches long.
Notice in the video the bulbous sack in the center of its wings? This sack contains a purple ink-like substance that is excreted as a cloud when in danger, confusing predators with a smoke cloud. The ink is not poisonous but does contain a toxin that can harm small fish if concentrated. Sea hare’s vary in color based on the color of the algae they consume. At one point, the Sea Hare looks like she came up for a breath of air – we observed this many times. However, according to Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute staff – she doesn’t breathe air; she was just probably eating microscopic algae.
This slimy species is not a food fish because the same toxin contained in the ink sack is also in its skin, although we have heard the Chinese, Japanese and Hawaiians prepare meals with this slug. How about using a sea hare for bait? We don’t recommend it since they are not abundant, have slippery slimy skin and we doubt they would attract many fish! How about putting one in your aquarium? Not recommended because they only eat algae and usually starve to death once all the algae is gone in your fish tank.
Let’s just say, leave the sea hare alone and enjoy their beauty as they pass you by.
They may be ugly and slimy, but check out this delicate dance of the Sea Hare:

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