Super-cleaning marine animals

In the ocean, some species are cleaners, and offer their services to their neighbours.

murène et crevette nettoyeuse

Everyone to the wash station!

In fact, some animals have very specific functions and collaborate with other species; with a subtle ulterior motive, namely to seize the cleaning opportunity to feed themselves. All work deserves to be paid!

The cleaner wrasse

The cleaner wrasse (Labroides dimidiatus) belongs to this category of super-cleaners. It has a very sedentary lifestyle and its modest business is never short of work. The fish go to the meeting point to have their mouths and gills inspected and to have any food scraps or dead skin removed. The cleaner wrasse is both a dentist and a doctor, and is not afraid to climb into the moray eel’s mouth to perform surgery.

However, beware of imitations: a certain Aspidontus taeniatus resembles the cleaner wrasse, and behaves like it, but will not hesitate to bite its customer and tear off a piece of fin.


moray eel and  cleaner wrasse

The Pacific cleaner shrimp

The Pacific cleaner shrimp is another detritivore animal that performs a cleaning function. It is just as much at home in the mouths of moray eels as the cleaner wrasse, ridding fish of their parasites. A shrimp can clean up to 300 fish a day!

Certain species of shrimp relish glass anemones (of the genus Aiptasia) and eliminate this coral-attacking predator from aquariums.

The Pacific cleaner shrimp

The sea cucumber, a cleaner victim of overfishing

Another super-cleaner of the sea is the sea cucumber. In the natural environment, the sea cucumber cleans benthic bottoms. In fact, detritivore species digest more than 45 kg of sediment per year and release sediment that has been cleaned of impurities.

Highly prized by Asian gourmets, sea cucumbers are also sought after for medicinal purposes, as they are thought to have aphrodisiac properties and to enhance virility.

The burden of overfishing on sea cucumbers is creating an ecological problem.


edible sea cucumber

Sharks, super-predators and super-cleaners.

Many species of shark are also cleaners. They are at the top of the food chain and play a role in regulating marine populations by feeding on weak or sick animals.

This role of regulator of lower predator species contributes to the balance of the ecosystem in which it evolves. The shark's place at the top of the food chain is therefore essential to the balance of the oceans.

grey shark in the high seas tank in Nausicaa