More than 3,300 known species live in the Gulf of Maine, but some can’t help but stand out.

Andy Pershing, a Gulf of Maine Research Institute scientist, ecosystem modeler and University of Maine assistant professor, helped narrow the pack and supplied information, along with other scientists.


Fin whale, second largest whale species at 50 to 70 tons

Numbers: Approximately 20,000 to 40,000 in the North Atlantic

Eat: Krill, herring, sand lance

Eaten by: Occasionally, killer whales in the Gulf (not common here, but have been seen)

Did you know? Nicknamed the Greyhound of the Sea, it can travel up to 23 mph (real greyhounds can run twice that).

Smallest (seen with the naked eye)

Copepods, size of a piece of rice, at best

Numbers: Trillions and trillions

Eat: Phytoplankton, little paramecium

Eaten by: Larval cod and haddock, right whales (they consume a jaw-dropping, and jaw-filling, 700-plus-billion Calanus finmarchicus copepods a day)

DYK? The genus Calanus may be the most abundant multi-cellular organism on the planet.

Most rare

Right whale

Numbers: Fewer than 400 in the North Atlantic

Eats: Copepods, krill

Eaten by: Rarely, large sharks and killer whales; more common is death by ship strike or entanglement

DYK? Named because they were the “right whale” to hunt; unlike lots of other whales, their dead float.

Biggest shark

Basking shark, 20 to 30 feet, rarely up to 50

Numbers: Difficult to estimate; varies by year and amount of food

Eats: Zooplankton, copepods, filter food through their gills

Eaten by: Nada (as adults, very low mortality rate)

DYK? These big guys don’t have teeth and like to laze around swimming on their sides, so you might not spot the fin.

Biggest cash crop

Lobsters, $270 million catch last year

Numbers: Approximately 350-plus million

Eats: Anything, everything

Eaten by: People, cod, crab, other lobsters

DYK? The Maine Lobster Promotion Council has the largest database of lobster recipes (650) in the world. Five hundred are online.

Most valuable groundfish crop (and ugliest Gulf dweller)

Monkfish, at $25 million a year

Numbers: Approximately 118,700 metric tons, over the target amount, meaning healthy stock

Eats: Anything, everything (waves a lure that’s part of its dorsal fin to attract prey, then snaps its mouth shut on its unsuspecting meal)

Eaten by: Other monkfish, people, seals, sharks

DYK? They’re amazing eaters. A 2.4-foot monkfish was once caught with a 2.2-foot cod intact inside its belly.

Most dangerous

Red tide dinoflagellate, causes paralytic shellfish poisoning in humans who eat contaminated seafood

Numbers: Fluctuates. These single-cell algae have annual bloom cycles in March-April and August-September

Eats: Uses photosynthesis

Eaten by: Copepods, muscles, clams, scallops, sponges

DYK? Red tide occurs naturally, normally blooms offshore and in Georges Bank and doesn’t become a problem until wind blows the surface water close. Also a bit of a misnomer; it very rarely turns the Gulf of Maine red.

One you least want to meet

White shark, lots of teeth, not so friendly

Numbers: Difficult to estimate; varies by year and amount of food

Eats: Seals, large fish

Eaten by: Nada (as adults, very low mortality rate); like basking shark, federally protected from fishing

DYK? The first seal pup befriended by the man behind “Andre the Seal” was eaten by a white shark. A later pup became the famous one.


Bluefin tuna, can reach up to 50 mph

Numbers: Shrinking; it’s critically endangered

Eats: herring, sand lance, mackerel, squid, eels

Eaten by: People (used for high-grade sushi), killer whales, sharks

DYK? It’s warm-blooded. The Maine State Saltwater Angler Record: 1,155 pounds, caught in 1981 with a harpoon.

Source: Scientists at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, Maine Department of Marine Resources and University of Maine; various Web sources

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