With 2,500+ species of fish and 500+ species of coral, the Philippine archipelago is spectacular to behold. The biodiversity and an overwhelming amount of sea creatures it one of the richest concentrations of marine life on the planet. The following is a quick guide to the most common marine life found in the Philippines … most of which you are likely to encounter should you venture in the waters surrounding the Philippine islands.
Whale sharks thrive in the tropical oceans usually with water temperature not lower than 21 degrees C. They are known for being the largest fish in the sea with a size comparable to a bus. They thrive on plankton such as krill, fish eggs, and nekton such as squid and fish. Whale sharks are gentle creatures with some even swimming with humans. Locally called butanding, whale sharks are commonly found in Southern Leyte, Donsol in Sorsogon, Camarines Sur, and Batangas.
Learn how to ethically & safely swim with Whale Sharks in the Philippines. All You Need to Know BEFORE You Go. Click here to learn how.
The stars of the sea are a common sight in several Philippine beaches. They vary in color – from various shades of red and orange to blue, grey, and brown. While they commonly have five arms, some species have more. They are mostly found on the seabed, be it tropical or polar waters.
Pelagic Thresher Shark
Pelagic thresher sharks are commonly found in the tropical and sub-tropical open oceans. Their typical size is 3 meters in length and 69.5 kg. in weight with a narrow head and body which is wide in the middle and tapered at the ends. These strong swimmers have been seen in Malapascua Island.
Learn how to ethically & safely swim with Thresher Sharks in the Philippines. All You Need to Know BEFORE You Go. Click here to learn how.
This species has soft skin which is covered with wart-like bulges, hence the name. Their body color varies and can change within a few weeks to match its habitat. Also called clown frogfish, the warty frogfish’ known habitats are rocks and coral reefs.
The Philippines has approximately 10,000 square miles of reef systems therefore placing the country rank 3 in overall coral reef area. It boasts of 421 species of coral and many areas in the country are considered protected coral reef areas. Apo Reef Natural Park is the largest reef in the country and second largest in the world.
This aquatic mammal known for its clicks and whistles is one of the most well-loved and popular sea creatures due to their intelligence and highly social behaviors. They’ve been featured in films and often kept in captivity to perform tricks and interact with humans in theme parks. While dolphins are accessible to public due to various dolphin facilities around the world, nothing beats the excitement when seeing them at their natural habitat. For dolphin encounters in the country, head to Bohol Sea, Tañon Strait (between Negros Oriental and Cebu), Babuyan Channel (Cagayan Province), Sarangani Bay, or Puerto Princesa Bay.
Meet Nemo and his gang in their natural habitat – in sheltered reefs in the shallow seas or in shallow lagoons. But the clownfish isn’t just orange – some are reddish and blackish with the largest measuring up to 16 cm.
A trip to any islands in the Philippines isn’t complete without feasting on crabs. After all, they live in any sea in the world.
Just like crabs, jellyfish are found in any sea in the world – be it in the surface water or deep sea. As of the moment, there is no record as to how many species of jellyfish found in the Philippines but the most common are Aurelia and Mastigias. The potentially deadly box jellyfish can be found in the country as well so be cautious upon seeing a jellyfish when swimming especially in areas where the creek meets the sea.
Squid is so common in the country you’ll surely find them for sale in most wet markets and even grocery stores. While giant squids prefer at the bottom of the ocean floor, young ones tend to appear at the surface.
This spherical animal covered with spine is another marine creature you may want to be cautious about. They inhabit the seabed of all oceans in the world. They come in various species with some can even be eaten raw, and in the Philippines, with vinegar.
Out of 54 species of seahorse, 10 of which can be found in the Philippines, including the Pygmy seahorse. Seahorse inhabits the tropical waters particularly the shallow areas such as seagrass beds, coral reefs, and mangroves. Finding this particular species can be a bit of challenge since they are one of the smallest in the world with an average size of less than 2 cm.
Anyone thinking to have an eel as pet may want to consider snowflake eel because they are the most friendly and suits life in an aquarium. However, the aquarium must be secured since they are good at escaping, passing through even small holes. Typical length is 20 inches but some can reach up to 39 inches.
This small and stocky marine animal are found in almost all tropical seas in the world. They are covered in small spines or thorns enabling them to camouflage to avoid predators as well as attract prey. They live at the bottom of the sea particularly around reefs.
These crabs decorate themselves with pieces of sponge, algae, and other sedentary animals and plants to ward of predators as well as sneak up on its target. Decorator crabs come in various species with achaeus spinosus or spider crab being common in the Philippines, Indonesia, and Japan.
This saltwater shrimp can grow up to 5 cm in length and only eats starfish, preferably the small and more sedentary ones, to survive. Typical color is cream or white with spots which could be red or purple.
Eagle rays have long tails and long wings that can stretch up to 7 feet from tip to tip. In spotted eagle rays, each of them is different from the other in a sense that each has a unique pattern, just like human fingerprints. Humans should avoid them though as their sting can cause intense pain and bacterial infection.
This marine animal can easily gain attention because of their extraordinary colors and forms. Nudibranchs are soft-bodied molluscs inhabiting the seas of various depths all over the world. Adult nudibranch can grow up to 23 inches long.
Mandarin fish is another brightly colored creature found in the warmer waters just like the Philippine seas. It is most noted for its bright blue color with swirly orange stripes although some species are red with black stripes. Their typical size is 6 cm only and they tend to inhabit reefs and lagoons.
Also called ringed fish, this fish from the seahorse family has a long body which is typically cream-colored with rings from tip to tip. They are widespread throughout the tropical waters and tends to inhabit tide pools, lagoons, and reefs close to the ocean floor. What makes this species more interesting is that, the males are ones giving birth instead of the female.
Flying gurnards have elongated body but may look wide when they stretch their large pectoral fins. They could be brownish or greenish with patches which is either reddish or yellowish. They feed on small fish, bivalves and crustaceans and can grow up to 20 inches in length. They tend to inhabit the bottom of tropical waters.
Looks familiar? A moorish idol named Gill was one of Nemo’s tank-mates in the movie Finding Nemo. This species is notable for its black, white, and yellow bands which makes them a favorite aquarium pets however, they are kind of difficult to keep in the aquarium because they need large tanks, can become destructive, and their diet can be hard to replicate.
Frequently seen in the Visayas, the species are notable for their maroon, dark brown, and red with a hint of white colors. They inhabit the shallow waters and can even be found walking along the seafloor. They can grow up to 3 inches and live for about a year only. They are not suitable for consumption, though, as they are highly toxic.
Bamboo sharks are small sharks that can grow up to 48 inches long. Their tails are long, longer than the rest of their body length. They inhabit the shallow waters particularly tidepools, coral beds, and around boulders.
This largest type of ray in the world can grow as big as 7 meters across and a weight of about 3,000 kg. They may swim alone or travel in groups and sometimes with other fish species.
Seeing mantas in their natural habitat is a treat to divers and non-divers alike. They are one of the most popular marine creatures not only because of their size but also because of their calm and peaceful behavior even to humans. Some have even survived a few years in captivity given the right size of the aquarium. [READ: 10 Fascinating Facts About Mantas]