A humpback whale and her calf glide below the surface of their home, the blue ocean

Marine animals.

Fishing, hunting, habitat destruction and climate change are all threats to these individual, sensitive and feeling members of a crucial and delicate ecosystem. Discover how you can help our oceans and all life that dwells within them.

Oceans cover over 70 percent of the Earth’s surface and play host to an incredibly delicate eco-system – an underwater world that gives life to both marine and land animals – including us.

But dip just below the surface and you’ll see all is not well. Every day, our oceans and the unique and precious creatures who call them home are being exploited. Beneath the vast big blue, marine animals and their habitats are being destroyed, discarded, and poisoned.

Human activities are impacting the world’s oceans so much that 30%-50% of vulnerable marine habitats have already been lost and thousands of marine animals are in serious trouble.

The good news, a problem known is a problem we can solve. Read on to discover how we can each play a role in protecting our precious marine life and their ocean home.

Fishing industry: huge catch of herring fish on the boat out in North Sea

How are marine animals under threat?

Fishing, overfishing and ‘by-catch’.

Fish are sentient, feeling animals who swim in schools, protect each other, and feel a range of emotions including joy, fear, relaxation, and pain. They make up an important part of the very delicate ocean eco-system, which helps to generate over 50 percent of the air we breathe.

Yet every single year, thousands of millions of fish around the world are caught, hauled out of the ocean, and killed.  

Both the commercial and unregulated (‘poaching’) fishing industries are so intense that fish don’t have a chance to reproduce, driving many species to the brink of extinction, and making commercial fishing of most fish, unsustainable.

Fish like the sturgeon fish, mainly caught to make caviar, are now the most endangered species group on earth. The Beluga Sturgeon is now critically endangered.

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Industrial fishing in action: herrings caught in the net
Industrial fishing in action: herrings caught in the net

Fishing methods like bottom trawling (which indiscriminately scoops up everything in a trawler’s path), gillnets (which trap any marine animal), and longlines (designed to catch tuna) are extremely destructive. These methods cause significant damage to the marine habitat and are responsible for trapping thousands of other ‘non-target’ animals like dolphins, whales, and turtles.

40% of fishes caught worldwide are unintentionally caught and thrown back into the ocean either dead or dying. Known as ‘by-catch’, there are 38 million tonnes of non-target animals caught ‘accidentally’ each year. To put this into perspective, for every 1kg of shrimp, 5-20kgs of other species of marine life are found in the net.

Marine mammals like dolphins, the manatee, sea birds, seals and turtles are regularly caught because of cruel and destructive fishing methods, and usually found dead.


Fish nets that become loose or aren’t collected properly at sea then become ghost nets around the world – entangling sea birds, baby dolphins and other sea creatures. These animals are left to struggle and suffer a painful and long death. Tragically, many of these animals are already endangered or critically endangered.

The sheer volume of fish ripped from the ocean has a knock-on effect for other marine life who rely on fish for food. And, to add insult to injury, millions of wild fish like mackerel, sardines and anchovies are caught at sea each year only to then be fed fish in fish farms.

The atrocious waste doesn’t end there. Thousands more tonnes of fish caught at sea are left to rot – dumped back at sea or thrown out before they even reach a supermarket or consumer.

Fish farm sea pens in Australia
Credit: Farm Transparency Project

Fish farming.

Fish farming has become a multi billion-dollar industry and globally produces more farmed fish than the beef industry produces in beef. Fish are farmed all around the world including throughout Europe, South America and Australia, where the practice is particularly controversial due to welfare and environmental impacts.

Because of the intensive, cramped conditions they are kept in, farmed fish, like salmon, are considered to be the ‘battery hens’ of the sea. As many as 1 in 4 fish in fish farms show signs of severe depression and simply “give up on life”.

As many fish are farmed in sea cages in the open ocean, the prevalence of diseases in fish farms is a serious threat to ocean ecosystems as disease can spread into surrounding waters and infect wild fish populations.

And just like the farming of land animals for food, fish farming is highly inefficient, with farmed fish eating more fish than what they produce. Every year, millions of anchovies, sardines and other small fish are caught from the ocean to be fed to fish in farms – further depleting the number of fish in the wild. Australia’s largest salmon farmer, Tassal, uses 2 kg of wild caught fish in feed to produce just 1 kg of farmed salmon.

Salmon farms also attract curious and hungry animals like the seal and sea lions whose main food source is fish. To them, it’s like a buffet but cruel methods are routinely used to stop seals from ‘stealing’ the farmed salmon. These include underwater explosives and shooting the animals with ‘beanbag’ bullets which can cause blindness, deafness, severe injury and even death.

Climate change, ocean warming and acidification.

The oceans produce half of our oxygen, regulate the Earth’s climate and are home to over one million species of marine animals. And as our climate is changing – driven in part by animal agriculture – so too are our oceans, but not for the better.

Our oceans are absorbing much of the excess heat from greenhouse gas emissions, resulting in rising temperatures and sea levels. They are also becoming acidic – making it a very difficult place for marine life to keep living, and reproduce. In fact, fish, sea urchins and oysters can struggle to keep their young ones alive because their larvae are very vulnerable to acidity, causing them to die before they can fully develop into adults.


A turtle swims over a dead coral reef - this reef can no longer provide food or shelter for marine animals like turtles and fish.

When oceans warm up and become acidic, the algae – which make food from sunlight and keep coral reefs alive and well – abandon their coral home or die in events known as ‘coral bleaching’. Bleaching leaves coral vulnerable to disease, stunts their growth, stops them from reproducing and leaves marine animals – who depend on the coral to create communities – without a home or food.

To exacerbate this vicious cycle, coral bleaching also makes the ocean warmer and more acidic, decreasing the amount of oxygen the ocean can produce for marine life – and land animals, including humans.

Dozens of killed whales in the Faroe Islands.


It may seem like the hunting of marine mammals like dolphins, whales, seals and sea minks is a thing of the past. But, while illegal in many countries, 100,000 of these intelligent and family-oriented animals are still being hunted and killed every single year.

  • In the small village of Taiji Japan, thousands of bottlenose and striped dolphins as well as melon-headed whales are herded into a small cove to be slaughtered annually.
  • In the Faroe Islands, in Denmark, hundreds of dolphins and pilot whales are being killed every year.
  • Other countries including Norway and Iceland also continue to hunt whales and dolphins for their meat. As does Japan, but under the guise of ‘scientific’ purposes.

Animals killed are used for their meat or fur and some, spared from slaughter, are supplied to aquariums and marine parks around the world.

The hunting of marine mammals has led to the extinction of at least 15 species.

  • The Stellar’s sea cow was obliterated – literally eaten to extinction in just 27 years from when the species was first discovered.
  • The sea mink was driven to extinction by the fur trade.
  • Californian monk seals, who were hunted purely for their fur, became extinct in 2008.

Stingrays are also becoming threatened and driven to extinction. Hunted for their meat, their skins are then prized as exotic leather goods and used to make wraps for decorative swords and leather bracelets and bags – their skins have even been used in some hotels as exotic ‘wallpaper’.

Aquariums and marine parks.

The global aquarium trade is thought to be decimating reefs around the world. More than 30 million fish, along with other types of marine animals like jellyfish, sea urchins and molluscs are captured every year to supply aquariums and pet shops.

Fish stolen from coral reefs in Indo-Pacific regions are captured using cyanide (a potentially deadly chemical) which stuns the fish and makes them easier to catch. The use of cyanide to catch fish for aquariums is illegal, yet it’s still used around reefs across the Indo-Pacific. Most fish captured from the ocean die within the first twenty-four hours of being caught.

Many animals like dolphins, whales, sharks, stingrays, seals, and turtles all fall victim to the global aquarium and marine park industry. They can be captured when they are just babies – taken from their families for a life of deprivation and suffering in a chlorinated prison.

Marine mammals like dolphins, whales and seals have strong ties to their families, drinking milk from their mums until they are three years old and staying with the family group until they are six years old.

In aquariums and marine parks, dolphins and whales are deprived of their natural tendencies, become lonely, bored and depressed, and because the tanks are shallow, they can spend half of their lives at the tank’s surface which can cause skin problems and force their dorsal fins to collapse. Since the 1950’s, more than 5,000 whales and dolphins have died in captivity.  Today, there are still over 3,500 thousand dolphins and whales being kept in aquariums and marine parks around the world.

Pollution and plastics.

Compounding the threats to marine animals are fertiliser, pesticides and herbicides from land-based farming. Runoff of these toxins from farms flow into the oceans, polluting the water and destroying critical habitat and food sources – like sea grass, for juvenile fish, turtles and dugongs.

Animal agriculture is cited as one of the leading causes of ocean dead zones, threatening marine life and ecosystems. Other pollutants like toxic mercury from manufacturing plants, oil spills and rain full of carbon dioxide can lead to reproductive failure in marine animals, skin and eye irritation in sea birds and lung and liver problems in fish.

One of the biggest threats to our oceans and all sea life is plastics - littering the surface and depths of our oceans and killing thousands of marine animals every single year.
A seal looks at the camera, with fishing line tightly constricted around their neck.

Scientists estimate that there is one hundred million metric tonnes of discarded plastics and microplastics in the ocean. Household plastics along with fishing gear that is dumped or washed from shorelines are left to float in the ocean, entangling and then slowly killing any animal who becomes trapped.

Many marine animals like baby dolphins, hammerhead sharks, octopus, and seahorses who become entangled in discarded plastics, suffer painful mutilation and very often fatal injuries from suffocation or being unable to swim and eat.

Animals like seabirds, whales, fish and turtles often mistake discarded plastics for prey – a mistake that too often turns fatal as their stomach fills with plastic, causing them to die of starvation.

Microplastics accumulate along the marine animal food chain and ultimately can end up in the humans who consume them.

How you can help.

The risks that marine animals face is almost as vast as the deep blue ocean itself. But because these problems were largely created by humans, the power is in our hands to fix them.

Every one of us can protect and help save the sentient animals of the sea, through powerful individual action. Here are some simple ways you can create a kinder world for marine animals and help our oceans and all life within recover:

  • Explore a kinder way of eating by taking fish and other sea creatures into your heart and off your plate.
  • Enjoying more plant-based meals will also help reduce demand for the farming systems that are polluting our land, air and oceans.
  • Travel kindly by leaving aquariums and marine parks off your itinerary.
  • Recycle or re-use plastics or avoid buying and using plastic whenever you can.
  • Use cosmetics and skin-care that don’t use products containing marine animal derived ingredients, like squalene.
  • Avoid clothes, jewellery and fashion accessories that have been created using the skin or body parts of marine animals.
  • Join a beach clean-up in your local area, or when taking a stroll anywhere, pick up rubbish from the street and sidewalks.
Even if you never have the chance to see or touch the ocean, it touches you with every breath you take, every drop of water you drink, every bite you consume. Everyone, everywhere, is inextricably connected to and utterly dependent upon the existence of the sea.
Dr. Sylvia Earle
The World Is Blue: How Our Fate and the Ocean’s Are One

This image contains content which some may find confronting