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Marine Species: Sea Cucumber

The sea cucumber may not be the most glamorous animal, but for as common as they are underwater, most divers know little about them.

Though most divers don’t consider the sea cumber to be very exciting or glamorous, they are nonetheless quite common on many dives. Despite that, most divers know little about them. Here are a few fun facts about the sea cucumber.

What is a sea cucumber?

Sea cucumbers — over 1,000 known species as of today — belong to the echinoderm family, like starfish or sea urchins. As their name implies, most of them have a soft and cylindrical body shape resembling a cucumber, although they can vary. Some are almost round like sea apples, sometimes mistaken for soft corals; and some are elongated and look like snakes. The biggest recorded sea cucumber so far was almost 10 feet (3 m) long, but most species are around 8 to 12 inches (20 to 30 cm) long.

Many also have tentacles, which they use to feed. These can vary in shape and number depending on the species. Sea cucumbers eat mainly plankton and debris that they either pick from the ocean floor or glean from the moving water in the case of species that resemble the sea apple. Most of the time you’ll spot them on the sea floor, slowly inching along and scavenging for food. You may often also see a shrimp, crab or worms hitching a ride, as parasites or in a symbiotic relationship.

Where can you find them?

They live in every ocean, with species varying from one region to another.

Do people really eat them?

The short answer is yes. They are a popular dish in Chinese cuisine and are consumed in a lot of countries in Southeast Asia, whether fresh or dried. They are either collected from the sea floor or farmed in some areas, such as China, Japan, Australia or Indonesia.

What is their conservation status?

Thirteen species have been listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. Many species are data deficient, however, so it is therefore difficult to assess their conservation status.