The internet is full of cute critter memes — we seem to have an insatiable appetite for doe-eyed, tiny, fluffy animals. But plenty of underwater animals make us say “aww” as well. In no particular order, here are our picks for the 10 cutest underwater animals. (Incidentally, if you’re more interested in checking out faces only a mother could love, take a peek at our picks for the top eight ugliest underwater animals.
Who said octopus aren’t cute? Look at this little guy. The eyes, button nose and ear-like fins could put your pet bunny to shame. Because of fins that resemble the well-known fictional Disney elephant, the Grimpoteuthis is more commonly known as the Dumbo octopus. At least 15 species of Dumbo octopus fall under the genus of deep-sea umbrella octopus and yes, they’re all this cute.
Next on our list is the pufferfish. While there are many kinds, the porcupine pufferfish is of special note. When deflated, its big-eyed, seemingly smiling face will bring a grin to any diver’s face as well. Though this critter may appear harmless, it can be dangerous. Some puffer species are among the most poisonous vertebrates on Earth, with internal organs containing tetrodotoxin, up to 1,200 times deadlier than cyanide. A combination of sharp spikes on its outer body and its ability to inflate to almost double its size means that this little fish has few natural predators.
Costasiella kuroshimae nudibranch
Any divers lucky enough to have seen the Costasiella kuroshimae nudibranch in person will know why it made our list. Its body and face resemble a woolly cartoon sheep, earning it the nickname “Shaun the Sheep.” Usually tiny and nearly impossible to spot, show gratitude to your dive guide if they can to scope out this cutie for you.
Next on our list of cuties is the beloved Beluga whale, with a sweet, round face that also seems to be smiling. Belugas are sociable animals and live in pods, communicating with each other using a diversified language of whistles and clicks. You’ll find them in the waters of the Arctic and the Subarctic, where the ocean is icy cold.
Green sea turtle
Loved by divers and non-divers alike, the green sea turtle is one of the most recognizable adorable ocean critters. In the wild, a healthy turtle can expect to live to 80-100 years of age, while still maintaining an adorable face right into its golden years.
The axolotl lives exclusively in the lake complex of Xochimilco, near Mexico City. Its feathery external gills protruding from the back of its head resemble a wacky hairstyle, framing its adorable face and tiny, doll-like eyes. Its wide mouth means that on occasion it sports what appears to be a satisfied smile. Unfortunately, this creature is thought to be near extinction in the wild due to lake drainage to prevent flooding and threats from invasive species.
Bigeye thresher shark
Although we rarely consider sharks cute, we’ll make an exception for the bigeyed thresher. With their big, round eyes, these sharks resemble something that jumped out of a Japanese anime cartoon. Their small, frowning mouth makes them look as if they’re permanently apologetic. These pelagics live in warm tropical seas worldwide, but there are only a few places to reliably spot them.
It goes without that dolphins would make an appearance on this list. One of our favorites, the bottlenose dolphin, is not only adorable, but also immensely intelligent. Sometimes called the puppies of the sea, their smiling faces, cheeky curiosity and playful personalities attract divers and non-divers alike. Living up to 50 years in the wild, these carnivorous mammals can reach speeds of 18 mph and live in warm waters around the globe.
Next in line is a diver favorite. Notoriously difficult to photograph, these camera-shy fish are nonetheless remarkably cute, particularly as juveniles. Known as the yellow boxfish, this cute critter is shaped like a bright yellow box, covered in black polka dots. Though their color and dots change with maturity, their sweet eyes and pouty lips remain. You can find these little fish on tropical reefs, starting in only three feet (1 m) of water.
When it comes to sheer cuteness, we may have saved the best for last. Feast your eyes on the adorable pinky-fingernail-sized pygmy seahorse. They come in a few colors, depending on the which gorgonian fan they call home, but most are yellow or pink. They’re so well camouflaged that they’re almost impossible to spot, so enlisting a local dive guide is a good idea. These shy creatures are also notoriously difficult to photograph, so if you do see one, be sure to give it some space and time to relax.