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Artistic License Marine Biology

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A real sea sponge, and SpongeBob SquarePants. . . nope, not seeing it.
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Similar to land creatures, it is not uncommon for sea creatures to be portrayed inaccurately. These errors could be any characteristics about aquatic life that is portrayed inaccurately including anatomical errors, behavioral errors, errors about their habitats, and errors regarding how they interact with other species. This trope does not apply to mythical marine creatures, such as sea monsters and mermaids.

A Sub-Trope of Artistic License – Biology and a Super-Trope to Terrestrial Sea Life, Tailfin Walking, Clam Trap, Electric Jellyfish, Perplexing Pearl Production, Seahorse Steed, Funnel-Mouthed Cephalopod, Psycho Electric Eel, and Clamshells as Mouths. Related to Artistic License – Arachnids, Artistic License – Ornithology, and Somewhere, an Entomologist Is Crying. Overlaps with Somewhere, a Mammalogist Is Crying if the species being portrayed inacurately are cetaceans, pinnipeds, or sirenians. Also could overlap with Artistic License – Paleontology if the species being portrayed inaccurately is extinct/prehistoric, or Somewhere, a Herpetologist Is Crying if the species being portrayed inaccurately is a sea turtle/snake.

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Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • One chapter of Gon set in The Amazon has an arapaima falling prey to a shoal of piranhas, which eat it down to the bone as traditionally expected from piranhas. Arapaimas have extremely tough scales that even piranha teeth cannot pierce through, and if anything they eat piranhas as snacks. Ironically, this is what exactly happens with Gon, who no-sells the piranha bites and eats the predatory fish.

    Films — Animation 
  • Dingo Pictures:
    • Legend of Atlantis had dolphins with nostrils on the base of their beaks instead of blowholes on the top of their heads.
    • Balto had a seal with buckteeth that moves around on land. It's possible it was meant to be a walrus, but even if that's the case it still counts since doesn't look much like one.
  • Finding Nemo:
    • Barracuda don't usually attack eggs. They prefer live prey. That said, it's possible the barracuda was aiming for Coral and destroyed the eggs by accident.
    • Also, clownfish don't keep their eggs in caves for the very reason that happened in the movie. To keep their eggs safe from anything that would eat the eggs, they lay them on a flat part of the sea anemone where egg-eaters can't get them. But then again, you need some reason to get the plot going...
    • The interior of the whale's throat is too large. While blue whales have a gigantic mouth, their throat is tiny and unable to swallow anything larger than a beach ball (though that is still enough to swallow Marlin and Dory).
    • They also have respiratory and digestive traits completely separated, you know, so that they don't unintentionally sneeze fish out of their blowhole. And where is the light inside its mouth coming from?
    • Also, when Marlin and Dory are holding onto the whale's tongue and looking down its throat, the whale should not have a uvula (the grape-like ball that hangs in the back of your throat) dangling there.
    • Chuckles, the gift fish who was killed by Darla, looks like a goldfish. Which live in freshwater. The other Tank Gang members (one of whom is a starfish with a face) are saltwater fish. You can see where this is going.
    • None of the sea turtles seem to worry about having to breathe. They also don't travel in flocks, but this was intentional.
    • Sea turtles don't live anywhere near 150 years; that honor belongs to tortoises. Their expected lifespan is still quite impressive at 80 years.
    • Also, the sea turtles are able to talk underwater despite the fact that they cannot breathe it.
    • Clownfish do live in anemones but they also live in harems dominated by one male and one female, with a lot of non-productive males in the rest. When the dominant female dies, the dominant male undergoes a Gender Bender and becomes the new dominant female. Clownfish will also reproduce with their relatives in times of emergency. This particular tidbit has raised eyebrows at the choice of clownfish for the film.
    • Flapjack octopi have their mouths underneath their heads, not right below the eyes like a human face.
    • Anchor is a hammerhead shark whose mouth for some reason is located where his neck would normally be.
    • Interestingly, a featurette on DVD addresses the whole Artistic License issue. An animator relates a story of one of their consultants talking about the biological inaccuracies in their final fish designs. The animator replied, sheepishly, "Well... in real life they don't talk either, so..."
  • The Legend of the Titanic:
    • The dolphins jump as high as the deck of Titanic and manage to float in the air for a short amount of time by flapping their flippers.
    • The unrealistically large octopus which has a dog's nose, and has to take a breath before it goes underwater.
    • The sequel has a gang of sharks who try to destroy the heroes' submarine because they hate the color yellow. Sharks in real life are colorblind.
  • The Little Mermaid:
    • The movie depicts humpback whales with teeth instead of baleens.
    • The song "Under the Sea" says "The seaweed is always greener in somebody else's lake." Seaweed is a saltwater organism, and with one anthropogenic exception, lakes are freshwater biomes. Not to mention that it begs the question of how these sea creatures know what a lake is, although birds or migratory salmon and eels may have mentioned them.
  • Dave the Octopus from Penguins of Madagascar, who has cartoony eyes, a mouth in front of his face instead of a beak beneath his head, two siphons which look like ears, and is purple. This is especially jarring since every other octopus in the film looks comparatively realistic (no mouth, for starters).
  • Pinocchio: Monstro the whale resembles a sperm whale, but has a head much too wide and teeth on both jaws, when real sperm whale have laterally-flattened heads and only have teeth on their very thin lower jaw. He also has belly lining, which is a trait of baleen whales. He is also seen sleeping at the bottom of the ocean. Whales don't sleep that way, or else they would drown. Although it's eventually revealed he's just pretending to sleep so he can ambush passing schools of fish.

    Films — Live Action 
  • Aquaman has made many mistakes regarding sea creatures:
    • Sharks don't roar. And they would never slam their noses into glass hard enough to break it, since their noses are extremely sensitive.
    • We see familiar fish in Aquaman's army, except fish that exist that deep tend to be blind and super-ugly.
  • Jaws:
    • This film and its sequels are infamous for depicting sharks as relentless man-eaters. Great white sharks do not see humans as food due to lack of enough fat to provide them calories and usually (usually, not always) attack if provoked, smelled blood, or in a case of mistaken identity. They also need much of their energy to maintain their body temperature. Being opportunists, they will eat most things they can catch, but they don't specifically target people. Also, according to scientists in the 2000s, another reason sharks don't attack people is sharks apparently don't like the taste of human meat. After all, humans don't live in the ocean.
    • Jaws 2 has an orca that is mauled to death by the great white shark, and the supposed marine biologist claims that there are far greater marine predators than it, referencing the shark. In real life, orcas are capable of killing great white sharks and are the only predator (besides humans and other great whites) that preys on great whites. There have even been cases of entire populations of great whites fleeing from an area due to orcas preying on one individual. Even a fully-grown shark would not bother attacking an orca as it is still less than half the size of the mammal.
    • Jaws: The Revenge has the shark roaring, which sharks are incapable of due to lacking vocal cords (or lungs, for that matter).
  • The Meg:
    • The titular prehistoric shark species is found surviving to the modern day in an isolated and self-contained ecosystem located at the bottom of the Mariana Trench, at a depth of 11,000 meters. In fact, no shark species is known to live that deep. Scientists are not entirely sure why (it may have something to do with their physiology), but sharks and their relatives appear to have a depth limit compared to bony fish and invertebrates.
    • Similarly, the film depicts a giant squid living in the same biome and preyed upon by the Meg. Real giant squid are admittedly little understood, but what is known suggests that they normally do not live at depths much greater than 1,000 meters.
    • Even if a shark hypothetically could live at those depths, its eyes would have adapted over millions of years to the lack of sunlight, and as a result, the Meg should have been completely blind when it surfaced. (Though this is one detail the book got right, as the Megalodon there only surfaces at night due to how much the sunlight hurts its eyes).
    • Megalodon lived in warm, coastal areas and specialized in hunting whales and other high-fat, nutrient-rich mammals. It is extremely unlikely that a viable population of such an apex predator species could survive in the cold and nutrient-poor abyssal depths.
    • The Megalodon in the movie is 75 feet (23 meters) long, and the species as a whole is given a size range of 70-90 feet (21-27 meters). In reality, Megalodon was about 50-60 feet (15-18 meters) long.
    • Suyin mentions that the Megalodon had no known predators. In fact, they likely faced serious competition from the similarly-sized sperm whale Livyatan melvillei.
    • The book opens with an infamous scene wherein a Tyrannosaurus rex wanders out to sea and falls prey to a Meg. In fact, the Megalodon existed, at the earliest, some 42 million years after the KT Extinction Event (though similarly-sized marine predators like Mosasaurs and Pliosaurs did coexist with the dinosaurs).
  • The low-budget monster flick Octopus attributes its giant cephalopod's prodigious appetite for meat to a severe deficiency in iron, such that eating iron-rich flesh is all that's staving off its death from anemia. Mollusk blood uses copper, not iron, as an oxygen-carrier, so if anything it should have been chewing on the imperiled submarine's electric wiring, not its crew.
  • Piranha 3D: The Piranha survived two million years in an enclosed cavern through cannibalism. Every predator gets about 10% of the energy his prey took in. So, every generation of piranha should have lost 10/11 of their population. Even assuming they magically preserved 90% of the energy, they wouldn't have made it that long without producers in their food chain! And just to add insult to injury at the end of the movie we find out they've been fighting the babies, which are apparently as big as their full-grown prehistoric ancestors. So, apparently, this process made them bigger.
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    Literature 
  • E. T. A. Hoffmann describes dolphins as having scales in The Nutcracker and the Mouse King and has them blowing water through their nostrils. (Dolphins have a single blowhole on the top of their head, and they don't actually blow water out through it.)
  • The Jungle Book: The White Seal mentions Kotick getting attacked by a basking shark. Basking sharks are harmless filter-feeders.
  • Among other inaccuracies and instances of Science Marches On, Moby-Dick has a substantial section in which the narrator tries to argue that whales aren't mammals and that anyone who thinks they are is delusional. The extent to which this is supposed to be tongue-in-cheek—if at all—is left for the reader to decide.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Walking with Dinosaurs: While at the time the series was fairly accurate to everything we knew about Mesozoic life at the time, most of the inaccuracies that the show had fell under Artistic License, usually because of Rule of Cool (although in the years since the show aired, the field of paleontology has made countless discoveries that have drastically challenged and changed our perception of the history of life on the planet). The episode, "Cruel Sea", however, was the biggest offender of the show's inaccuracies:
    • The episode's main antagonist, and one of the most infamous examples of this trope, is a Liopleurodon, who is absolutely gargantuan at 82ft long and 150 tons. Though the real animal's maximum size isn't yet known, most estimates put it at around 20-30 ft at most, which, while still large for a pliosaurid, is nowhere near the size of the monster in the episode.note 
    • The plesiosaur Cryptocleidus is often shown resting on the shore, as well as dragging themselves out of the water and diving back in like pinnipeds, penguins or turtles, and the episode states it's one way of the species protecting itself from being preyed on by the Liopleurodon. The real Cryptocleidus, and indeed all plesiosaurs, couldn't do this because of the unique shape of their shoulders and limbs.
  • Walking with Beasts: The sequel series to Walking with Dinosaurs, "Beasts", was considerably more well researched and is still a fairly accurate portrayal of life throughout the Cenozoic, with most of its inaccuracies being entirely the result of Science Marches On rather than anything else. Nonetheless, in the episode "Whale Killer", there is one particular case of this trope regarding the protagonist of the episode, a female Basilosaurus (a species of large, predatory whales). Though she spends the entirety of the episode patrolling the Tethys Ocean of 33.9 million years ago in search of food, as the fish populations at the time significantly decreased resulting in a collapse of the food chain, the narrator at one point mentions the Basilosaurus had gotten so desperate she left her deep water hunting grounds for shallower waters. The real Basilosaurus actually preferred shallow water and was incapable of deep-diving, due to the relatively weaker musculature of their tails and the thicker bones of their limbs.

     Music 
  • The jaw-snapping hand gestures that accompany children's singing of "Baby Shark" include full-arm movements for Daddy Shark (indicating great size), and curled-finger movements (implying toothless gums) for Grandma Shark. Male sharks are typically smaller than their female counterparts, and shark teeth regrow regardless of age.

    Video Games 
  • Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag:
    • Jellyfish only deal damage if Edward comes in contact with their body; their tentacles are harmless. That's the complete opposite of how they behave in real life since the cnidocytes that deliver the poison are located along their tentacles.
    • In one of the Diving Bell locations, there's a shipwreck where Edward can watch a giant squid drag an adult sperm whale down to the depths of the ocean floor. While it's likely intended to be a Call-Back to the giant cephalopod that appeared in Brotherhood, and clashes between sperm whales and giant squid are well known, it's outright physically impossible for the squid to do this in real life, given that sperm whales are substantially larger than giant squid. Moreover, sperm whales are considered an apex predator species for a reason, as not only do giant squid count among the species sperm whales actively hunt and prey on, orcas are the only species considered to be the sperm whale's natural predators, and even then such predation only occurs if the orca pod is large enough to risk attacking adult females with calves; adult male sperm whales are not only too large and aggressive for even orcas to take, they have actually been known to come to the aid of any nearby females with calves if the group is being attacked by or is vulnerable to attack from nearby orca pods.
  • Genshin Impact: During his boss fight, one of Childe's attacks has him summoning a massive narwhal made of water, referencing his constellation. However, the creature has a long head, large flippers, prominent ventral grooves and is absolutely gigantic, making it look more like a humpback whale, as narwhals have short heads, tiny flippers, no ventral grooves and are much smaller. In fact, the only reason it resembles a narwhal at all is because it has a tusk.
  • Kingdom Hearts: In Atlantica, there is a dolphin with vertical tail flukes like a fish.
  • King's Quest IV: The whale that swallows Rosella has teeth and a uvula (which Rosella needs to tickle with a feather to make the whale sneeze her out.) Pretty much everything about that sentence is incorrect.
  • Living Books: Arthur's Computer Adventure features green electric eels living in the ocean. Real electric eels are brown and only live in South American rivers (being freshwater fish, they would die swimming in seawater). Also, the ones in the "Deep Dark Sea" mini-game look nothing like electric eels.
  • Wario: Master of Disguise has a dolphin boss who breathes water instead of air, and the way to beat it involves trapping it above water so it gasps like a fish. Because dolphins are obviously fish.
  • In World of Warcraft, orcas apparently produce humpback whale song. When fighting, no less.

    Web Original 
  • The flash clip Dugong begins with words 'Dugong, dugong it's a cow of the se-e-e-a. Dugong, dugong, also known as the manatee'. The problem is that dugong (Dugong dugong) and manatees (genus Trichechidae) are different animals. One may also argue that "sea cow" (a common name for dugong) is yet another, now extinct animal also known as Steller's Sea Cow (Hydrodamalis gigas). Furthermore, the song contains the phrase 'Compared to dolphin, its very close cousin...'. Dugong and dolphins are water mammals, but they belong to different orders (dugong to Sirenia, dolphins to Cetacea). Hardly 'very close cousins'.
  • Gemini Home Entertainment: The episode "The Deep Blue" is an in-universe documentary about the ocean, and nearly every stated fact about marine life (or the ocean itself) is wrong on some level. Specifically:
    • "These fish are often swallowed whole by mammoths like the Blue Whale." (Really, blue whales feed exclusively on krill, and only sometimes swallow fish by accident.)
    • The narrator talks about stingrays while showing footage of manta rays, and also mixes up "venom" and "poison" when talking about the stingray's sting.
    • "Nothing can live inside the Marianas Trench." (In reality, many expeditions to the Mariana Trench have observed life at the bottom, including unique species of snailfish, amphipods, and macroscopic single-celled organisms of the group Monothalamea.)

    Western Animation 
  • Done in The Fairly OddParents episode where Timmy's Dad's first time on the Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? spoof, "Are You Brighter Than a 6th Grader" had him answer "sea cucumber" to nearly all the questions until the last one, "what kind of cucumber lives in the sea" prompting him to say the wrong answer. Forcing himself to re-attend school, Timmy's Dad retakes the competition and goes on a roll until the last question, "which sea vegetable would suit perfectly on an undersea salad", causes him to hesitate until he finds it in himself to say the right answer. In spite of the name, sea cucumbers are not cucumbers or vegetables in general, but animals — specifically echinoderms, like starfish. Regular cucumbers aren't technically vegetables, even.
  • I'm A Dinosaur: Plesiosaurs are depicted as egg-laying animals, while in real life they gave live birth.
  • Kenny the Shark:
    • Buster attempts to eat Kat along with Kenny in "Whaling on Kenny", despite the fact orcas don't eat humans. Tiger sharks (in fact, any sharks) on the other hand...
    • An In-Universe example occurs in "Mr. Popularity" where Kat becomes annoyed by an animated movie which unrealistically portrays shark biology. Namely the main great white shark character having parents (sharks do not practice parental care) and being a vegetarian who's friends with a squid (great white sharks are predators which eat squid).
      Kat: Why is that movie so popular when it's so wrong?
    • The premise of the show is sharks and other fish being able to walk and breathe on land, but that's an acceptable break.
  • The Octonauts:
    • Professor Inkling and his nephew Squirt are octopi with Garfield-esque muzzles that most of the anthropomorphic Octonauts have, as well as noses. Octopi do not have muzzles or noses in real life.
    • Not to mention that Inkling and Squirt shown to be able to produce ink. In real life, Dumbo octopi cannot do this.
    • While pretty minor, venomous animals are called poisonous throughout the show.note  Furthermore, the venomous nature of these animals is often downplayed a bit. For example, Kwazii has been stung by a Lion Fish in one of the episodes and treats it as if it were a minor sting. They're not. The same thing happens when the crew encounters a cone snail and a duck-billed platypus.note 
    • Shellington and Pearl being twins. In the real world, sea otters having twins is extremely rare, and one of the twins almost inevitably dies because the mother can only take care of one pup.
    • The Colossal Squid's size is shown to be far larger than it is. While the Colossal Squid is larger than the Giant Squid, the Colossal Squid is only larger in mantle size. The Colossal Squid has much shorter tentacles, with just a wider and stouter body[1].
    • All of the animals are anthropomorphized to some degree; it's a kid's cartoon, after all. It's most notable with non-chordate creatures; octopi, jellyfish, and starfish are depicted with two eyes and a mouth below it, on whatever part of their body faces outward. The giant squid even eats fish biscuits through this second mouth.
  • Phineas and Ferb:
    • "Voyage to the Bottom of Buford" has a giant squid with its beak under its eyes instead of its body. Also, Buford's goldfish Biff can survive in saltwater.
    • "Belly of the Beast" claims sharks have molars and incisors (they do not).
    • Pelicans are drawn with oversized bill pouches and generic bird feet with only three toes.
    • The music video for the song "Today Is Gonna Be a Great Day" by Bowling for Soup has the brothers taming a tiger shark, which is shown as a shark with black and orange stripes jumping through a circus fire hoop.
  • The Simpsons:
    • In the third act of "Treehouse of Horror XI", dolphins have no trouble moving on land (by Tailfin Walking) and are not worried about dehydration or sunburn. Plus there's the whole "dolphins used to live on land until humans banished them into the ocean where they suffered for millions of years" thing.note  Of course, the Treehouse of Horror episodes aren't known for realism anyways. They did throw in a bit of accuracy by having King Snorky's mouth not sync when he speaks, referencing to the fact dolphins use their blowholes for communication since they cannot breathe through their mouths.
    • "Cape Feare" featured electric eels that have flickering forked tongues as if they're snakes, plus they're in a North American river.
    • In "Bonfire of the Manatees", Caleb claims manatees and dugongs are the same animal, when they aren't (though they are both sirenians aka sea cows). Manatees are also portrayed being able climb onto dry land like seals, whereas they are purely aquatic dwellers.
    • In "Bart Carny", Homer and Bart taunt a shark into ramming a glass-bottomed boat. Sharks don't ram as they have sensitive noses.
  • One episode of The Snorks had what's clearly a baleen whale referred to as a killer whale. To make it worse (and even more confusing), it is shown trying to eat a baby whale like a killer whale would, despite its lack of teeth.
  • It's honestly easier to list the things in SpongeBob SquarePants that don't involve this to some degree, starting with the titular character himself being a sea sponge who looks more like a walking, talking kitchen sponge (as sea sponges didn't look as appealing, though that didn't stop SpongeBob's parents from using more realistic designs), shown in the page image. Ironically, series creator Stephen Hillenburg actually studied marine biology in college.
  • 1973/74 Super Friends episodes:
    • "The Shamon U". A miniaturized sperm whale returns to normal size on a city street. It should be crushed by its own weight and be unable to breathe, but it's just fine.
    • "The Watermen''. When the title aliens extract silicon from sea water, it causes the sea water to immediately turn into red tide. Just one problem: red tide is caused by microorganisms, not a lack of silicon. This is lampshaded when Professor Matey notes that it should be impossible.

Alternative Title(s): Artistic Licence Marine Biology

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