Invertebrates: Backbone of the Ocean

Invertebrates may lack a spine, but they form the backbone of ocean communities. These bizarre creatures form the base of food webs, break down organic matter, and filter seawater. Close to the ocean's surface, tiny invertebrates like krill feed enormous creatures like baleen whales. Miles down on the seafloor, scientists are still discovering new invertebrates, with novel species of corals and sponges being identified each year.

starburst anemone

Starburst anemone, Channel Islands NMS. Photo: Evan Barba

pink anemones and orange barnacles

Strawberry anemones and barnacles, Cordell Bank NMS. Photo: Matt Vieta/BAUE


Crinoid, Cordell Bank NMS. Photo: OET/NOAA

sea stars on a rocky outcropping

Brisingid sea stars and basket star, Gulf of Mexico. Photo: NOAA

egg case on pink octocoral

Skate, ray, or shark egg case on octocoral, Gulf of Mexico. Photo: NOAA