Gulf Shores and Orange Beach are home to four distinct ecosystems, each with its own contribution of wildlife. It is no wonder that the Gulf Coast area has such remarkable biodiversity and is home to 4,500 different species. Of those, 144 can only be found in the state of Alabama, and another 100 are deemed globally rare.
The Gulf of Mexico contains an affluent biodiversity of fish and other sea life. It is home to many different aquatic species such as plankton, fish, squid, shrimp, crab and oysters, which are important for maintaining the health of this basin and feeding other marine animals such as whales, dolphins and seabirds. Exploring the wildlife at the Gulf will produce an experience that is unparalleled in any other region.
Locally known as a bottom fish, Red Snapper in the Gulf of Mexico live on or near the sea floor. Snapper schools congregate around artificial reefs as well as offshore oil rigs, shipwrecks and more natural ridges, ledges and reef formations. Alabama is known as the Red Snapper Capital of the World. Charter boat trips help boost the local economy not only through guests to the area but also supplying seafood restaurants the area is known for.
Alabama trophy fish include Tuna and Wahoo. Tuna, particularly the Yellowfin and Blackfin varieties, are not only taste great, they can win trophies as well. Wahoo is a real prize for both fishermen and landlubbers alike and are known for their quickness. Many tournaments take place in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach. One standout is The Blue Marlin Grand Championship. Its become known for it’s “Rock Star” Weigh-ins and as the Greatest Show in Sport Fishing!
Lionfish are an invasive species of the Gulf of Mexico. You can identify a Lionfish by their distinctive brown or maroon and white stripes, bands covering their head and body, fleshy tentacles and fan-like pectoral fins. Though beautiful, they are highly poisonous and have the potential to kill helpful sea creatures who eat algae, allowing seaweed to overtake reefs. Lionfish is considered a delicacy but much care must be taken during preparation due to it’s deadly nature.
The largest population of Atlantic bottlenose dolphins live in the Gulf of Mexico. There are many other types of dolphin that live in our area including Clymene dolphin, Fraser’s dolphin, Stopped dolphin, Risso’s dolphin, Rough-toothed dolphin and Pantropical spotted dolphin. Porpoises are a different species, formally classified as a small whale, and are not found in the Gulf of Mexico.
The Gulf can be an ideal place for whales to inhabit. Some of the most well-known whales living in our area are the Blue whale, Fin whale, Humpback whale, Minke whale, Northern Right whale, Sei whale, and Sperm whale. Whales are mammals and like all of the species they breathe air, feed their young milk and are warm blooded. Some whales, like the baleen and humpback whale have 2 blowholes through which they breathe.
Manatees regularly visit the warm waters of the Alabama Gulf Coast. The most common type of manatee is the West Indian Manatee. There are about 3,000 of this species alive in U.S. Waters today and are currently listed as an endangered species. When first spotted by early explorers, manatees were believed to be mermaids. Believe it or not, the closest living relatives to these peaceful creatures are elephants.
With more than 60 plus varieties of crab in the Gulf Coast waters, Blue Crab is Alabama’s top choice. Crabbing has become a local pastime among families in our area. If you head out on local inshore waterways, it is not uncommon to see foam floats along the way. This is how trap owners identify their property and claim their delicious treasure! You can also have a lot of fun on the beach after dark with as little as a flashlight and handheld net trying to capture the elusive creatures.
Characteristics of shrimp mainly consist of a 2 part body including the head and thorax and are protected by a hard shell. In Alabama, shrimp are identifiable by their color from white shrimp, brown shrimp and pink shrimp to our local favorite, the Royal Red shrimp. Because of the Royal Red’s size and rich seafood taste, they provide the ultimate shrimp boil feast! Local shrimpers work day and night to bring in this local delicacy. Make sure you try some on your next visit!