World's 9 Most Endangered Marine Animals

Updated on May 10, 2019
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In my childhood, I adopted a puppy that changed my life and attitude towards animals—I have since become a lifelong animal lover.

The vast ocean is home to billions of sea creatures. Sadly, many of them are threatened by the impacts of human activities, causing a significant drop in their population. Excessive commercial fishing, pollution, and global warming are just some of the pressing issues that drive these endangered marine animals closer to extinction.

Conservation Status

The IUCN Red List is a comprehensive record of the conservation status of animals, plants, and fungi. This status indicates whether a certain species is extinct or how likely an existing species will become extinct.

The list classifies species based on criteria such as population size, rate of population increase or decrease, breeding rates, geographic distribution, threats, and actions undertaken to protect the species.

no known living individuals
Caribbean monk seal, Steller's sea cow
Extinct in the Wild
living individuals exist only in captivity
Critically Endangered
extremely high risk of becoming extinct
vaquita, hawksbill turtle
high risk of becoming extinct
blue whale, North Atlantic right whale
likely to become endangered
polar bear, great white shark
Near Threatened
likely to become endangered
yellowfin tuna
Least Concern
widespread and abundant; lowest risk of becoming endangered
skipjack tuna
Data Deficient
unknown risk of extinction due to insufficient data
killer whale, Humboldt squid
Not Evaluated
not evaluated yet against the criteria
All species classified under Critically Endangered, Endangered, and Vulnerable are considered endangered.


At least 468 species of animals have gone extinct over the last century due to human activities.

Endangered Marine Animals

The total number of species living in the ocean is unknown, but more than 360 marine species are vulnerable and threatened by extinction. Here are some of these endangered marine animals.

  1. Vaquita
  2. Hawksbill Turtle
  3. Galapagos Penguin
  4. Hector's Dolphin
  5. Humphead Wrasse
  6. North Atlantic Right Whale
  7. Hawaiian Monk Seal
  8. Great White Shark
  9. Polar Bears

Vaquita | Source


  • Status: Critically Endangered
  • Habitat: only in the northern part of the Gulf of California
  • Distinct physical feature: unique black ring surrounding each eye

The vaquita, a small porpoise discovered only in 1958, is the world's rarest marine mammal. In 2018, there are at most 22 known existing vaquitas. Conservationists believe that their population is halved each year.

The steady decline in the number of vaquitas is not a result of lack of food, habitat destruction, or diseases. In fact, the remaining individuals are healthy and producing offspring.

The illegal hunting of another endangered marine animal – the totoaba – is what drove the species to near extinction. Vaquitas get entangled in the fishing nets poachers use to catch the prized totoaba. Because they have to come to the surface in order to breathe, they drown when they get entangled.

Hawksbill Turtle
Hawksbill Turtle | Source

Hawksbill Turtle

  • Status: Critically Endangered
  • Habitat: open ocean, lagoons, and mangrove swamps but are most commonly found in tropical coral reefs
  • Distinct physical feature: narrow and pointed beak

Named for the shape of its beak, the hawksbill turtle is one of the seven species of marine turtles that inhabit the ocean waters. Estimates reveal that over the last hundred years, its population has decreased by about 80%.

Hawksbills are heavily trafficked for their meat and shells. Their shells are colorful and have a distinct and beautiful pattern. This makes them valuable in the market and they're sold as “tortoiseshell.” In addition, many people still harvest their eggs despite the practice being banned.

These turtles feed mainly on sponges. Thus, the widespread destruction of coral reefs has also contributed to the drop in their number.

Galapagos Penguin
Galapagos Penguin | Source

Galapagos Penguin

  • Status: Endangered
  • Habitat: coastal caves and crevices in the Galapagos Islands
  • Population: around 2,000

Penguins are marine birds and Galapagos penguin is the most northerly dwelling species. They feed mainly on cold-water fish, which reach the tropics through the cold Humboldt Current.

Natural threats to the Galapagos penguins are sharks, sea lions, fur seals, snakes, hawks, and owls. Introduced species, such as dogs, cats and rats, also pose a threat to both adults and eggs. At sea, they're occasionally caught as by-catch and potentially at risk from debris and plastic pollution.

Their feeding and breeding habits are closely associated with environmental conditions. Thus, climate change significantly threatens the survival of their species. In fact, a strong El Niño event in 1982 wiped out three-quarters of all Galapagos penguins due to starvation.

Hector's Dolphin
Hector's Dolphin | Source

Hector's Dolphin

  • Status: Endangered
  • Habitat: shallow coastal waters along New Zealand's North Island
  • Distinct physical feature: rounded dorsal fin resembling a Mickey Mouse ear

Rarely exceeding 5 feet in length, Hector's dolphin is one of the world's smallest species of marine dolphins. They're also the only cetacean species endemic to New Zealand.

The biggest threats these dolphins face are by-catch and entanglement. Because they live close to shore, they're at risk of being struck and injured by boats. Newborns are especially susceptible as they swim slower and closer to the surface.

Other threats to Hector's dolphins are oil and gas exploration, seabed mining, coastal development, and pollution in their habitat.

Humphead Wrasse
Humphead Wrasse | Source

Humphead Wrasse

  • Status: Endangered
  • Habitat: coral reefs chiefly in the Indo-Pacific region
  • Distinct physical features: a prominent bump on the forehead and thick lips

The humphead wrasse is a huge reef fish that grows over 4 feet in length and weighs more than 400 pounds. Some of them can live more than 30 years.

Their diet consists chiefly of other reef-dwellers such as mollusks, crustaceans, and starfish. They're important to the overall health of the coral reefs as they control the population of crown-of-thorn starfish. Left unchecked, these coral reef predators can cause huge damage to the reef.

While long-lived, the humphead wrasse takes about seven years to sexually mature and is slow to reproduce. It's a prized luxury food and subject to overfishing, especially in Southeast Asia. Over the past 30 years, half of its population has been lost.

North Atlantic Right Whale
North Atlantic Right Whale | Source

North Atlantic Right Whale

  • Status: Endangered
  • Habitat: mostly along the Atlantic coast of U.S. and Canada
  • Population: 300 to 350
  • Distinct physical features: white calluses on the head and a lack of dorsal fin

The North Atlantic right whale is a baleen whale that can weigh up to 70 tons. It's is one of the three species of right whales, so named because early whalers believed they were the “right” kind of whales to hunt.

Historical excessive whaling resulted to a significant decrease in the population of many whale species. It drove the right whales to near extinction.

The population of North Atlantic right whales is so small and slow-growing that despite the ban in whaling and the protection of the species, their number doesn't show signs of recovery. Today, they're threatened by entanglement in fishing nets, shipping traffic, and ship collisions.

Hawaiian Monk Seal
Hawaiian Monk Seal | Source

Hawaiian Monk Seal

  • Status: Endangered
  • Habitat: northwestern Hawaiian Islands
  • Population: fewer than 1,200

Unlike most seals, the Hawaiian monk seals prefer the warm tropics over frigid waters. They spend most of their time in the water swimming and diving to feed. When not at sea, they rest on beaches in uninhabited or little-used islands.

Natural threats to these seals are predatory sharks and male seals that kill females in group attacks known as “mobbing.” Coastal development and tourism, which lead to habitat loss, significantly contribute to the decrease of their population. They're also victims of accidental bycatch, entanglement, and plastic pollution.

The Hawaiian monk seal is one of the three known species of monk seals. Sadly, one of them – the Caribbean monk seal – has gone extinct due to extensive hunting and accidental capture.

Great White Shark
Great White Shark | Source

Great White Shark

  • Status: Vulnerable
  • Habitat: throughout the major oceans

Great whites can grow up to 20 feet in length and weigh about 6,600 pounds. They have serrated blade-like teeth that can reach 6.6 inches in height. These sharks can live for about 30 years.

Being the top predator at sea and having a scary reputation didn't keep the great white shark species from becoming endangered. These sharks are decreasing in number due to excessive hunting.

Sharks are hunted and killed by men, through legal and illegal means, every year to get their meat for food and teeth and jaws for trading. Their fins are highly valued as they're used for remedies and shark fin soup – a dish symbolizing status in Chinese culture.

Polar Bears
Polar Bears | Source

Polar Bears

  • Status: Vulnerable
  • Habitat: Arctic sea ice
  • Population: 22,000 to 31,000

Dwelling on the frozen waters of the Arctic Ocean, polar bears are considered marine animals. They're exceptional swimmers and can sustain speeds of up to 6 mph.

Polar bears have water-repellant coat and a thick layer of fat which insulate their body from the cold water and air. Their diet consists mainly of seals, which supply them with large amounts of fat.

Climate change is the single most significant threat to the species' long-term survival. Sea ice serves as the bears' only access to their prey. As they melt faster than predicted, an annual ice-free period lasting at least five months results to extended fasting.

Scientists believe that prolonged fasting can lead to increased starvation and reproductive failure in some areas. A study showed that by 2050, the global polar bear population would have been reduced by at least 30%.

Let other people know about the plight of these amazing endangered animals by sharing this article on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.


  • Top 50 Critically Endangered Animals in the Philippines, By Owlcation. Retrieved on May 5, 2019
  • SPECIES DIRECTORY. By World Wildlife - Retrieved on May 5, 2019
  • IUCN Red List, By - Retrieved on May 5, 2019
  • GALAPAGOS PENGUIN, By Galapagos Conservation - Retrieved on May 5, 2019
  • Fun Facts About Great White Sharks, By Oceana - Retrieved on May 5, 2019
  • Hawaiian Monk Seal, By National Geographic - Retrieved on May 5, 2019

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