If you’ve heard the term “kelp forest animals” and you’re curious about it, you may, first of all, be wondering what kelp actually is. Well, it is a large seaweed that grows to cover huge areas on the substrate of the ocean. They prefer the shallow waters close to the coast, usually not deeper than 130 feet, and create dense groupings that resemble thick forests on land – hence the name kelp forest.
Kelp is an algae that has three structural components:
The holdfast, which is practically the root that fixes the kelp to the substrate. It looks like a root of a land plant, but, unlike the root of plants, it does not absorb and deliver nutrients, its only role being to fasten the kelp to the sea floor,
The stipe is the kelp’s stalk;
The fronds are the leaf-like ends of the kelp and the sites where photosynthesis happens.
Kelp forests are widespread and common in the seas and oceans of the world – they can be found anywhere in the polar and temperate zone. There are large kelp forests in the Atlantic Ocean, around the coasts of Japan and China, and in the northern and southern part of the Pacific – even around Alaska.
Kelp being practically a population of brown algae, and algae being the base and foundation of marine life, kelp forests are home to a large variety of animals and plants. Kelp grows into large, dense towers that provide food to many sea mammals, fish and invertebrates; many kelp forest animals use the seaweed as nursing place to shelter their young and to protect them from predators; many birds use kelp forests as a primary source of nutrition.
Kelp forests give home, shelter and food to an incredibly large variety of sea creatures:
Invertebrates such as snails, prawns, bristle worms, scuds and stars, even anemones and jellyfish use kelp as shelter and they also feed on the holdfast of the kelp, sometimes removing the entire plant by eating its root;
Corals also like the sheltered, nutrient-rich waters of kelp forests;
Fish also prefer the abundant environment provided by kelp forests. Some of them prefer the waters close to the sea floor, while others, such as the seniorita, like to reside among the fronds, in the canopy of the forest. There is a species of fish that lives only in kelp forests and has been named kelp rockfish, after its habitat;
Mammals such as sea lions eat the fish that live in these thick forests; others, such as the grey whale and the sea otter, use the kelp to hide from predators and they also eat the small fish they find there;
There are also many birds that live on the animals they find among the kelp – starlings, crows, phoebes, herons and terns feed on the crustaceans and the flies they find in and above kelp forests.
The world of kelp forest animals is incredibly rich and varied, making the humble seaweed one of the most important creatures of the sea.