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Sticky fish hitch rides on whales, turtles and sharks
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Sticky fish hitch rides on whales, turtles and sharks

Sticky fish

In the underwater world of the ocean there is an unusual hitchhiker, the remora.

Atop the remora’s head are suction cups. The fish use this to attach themselves to sharks, turtles, rays and whales, which is how they earned the nickname shark suckers or suckerfish.

The suction is so strong they can hang on to a whale’s tail as it swims through the water at speeds seven times faster than a remora can swim on its own.

"This saves them energy and makes life less costly as they hitchhike on and skim over the whale surface like a NASA probe over an asteroid or some mini-world," said Erik Anderson, who co-authored a recent study on the fish.

In Latin the name remora means “delay.” The ancient Romans believed one of their emperors was killed because remoras that were attached to his ship slowed him down enough to let his enemies catch up.

Long ago, people figured out how to use a remora for their benefit. The person would tie a line onto a remora’s tail and head and throw it back in the water. When the remora attached itself to a fish or turtle, it would be pulled in.

Remoras aren’t considered a parasite because they don’t feed off whatever they are attached to, like lamprey eels do. Lampreys also attach themselves to fish using a suction-cup mouth, but lampreys are like vampires, eating their host’s blood.

Instead, remoras are just hitching a ride and may actually eat parasites on the shark, turtle or whale it’s attached to, along with other fish and smaller things living in the ocean called plankton.

The thin, streamlined remoras can grow up to 3 feet long. They are usually dark and have a pointed snout. Some remora species are good at attaching to blue whales while others seem to like sharks or dolphins.

— Brett French, french@billingsgazette.com

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