APR 13, 2020 2:41 PM PDT

The Longest Animal Ever Observed

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch

The world's oceans cover about 70 percent of its surface, and they still hold many mysteries. We know more about the surface of the moon than we know about the floors of the sea. As such, we have a lot to learn about marine life, and as more remote and deep areas are explored, more discoveries are made.

A group of researchers at the Schmidt Ocean Institute has been conducting deep-sea research with remotely operated vehicles. One, called ROV SuBastian was recently exploring the Ningaloo Canyons, an area off the remote coast of Western Australia. There, it recorded what is thought to be the longest organism ever observed, a type of marine organism called a siphonophore.

Siphonophores are part of the same phylum as corals and jellyfish - Cnidaria. Siphonophores look like a long string, and are made of small polyp-like cells called zooids. These zooids are individual clones that link together to form a larger colony that acts like one organism. In this case, thousands of these clones are connecting to form one entity.

These animals are predators. Some of the cells in the colony can sting prey that is unfortunate enough to swim into the colony.

"The crew is estimating it to be more than 120 meters in total length - possibly over 390 feet long," Logan Mock-Bunting, a spokesperson for the Schmidt Ocean Institute, told Newsweek. "We are in the process of outside confirmation of these measurements."

"Their slender bodies hang with a single long tentacle dangling like a hook-studded fishing line," tweeted Rebecca Helm, an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina Asheville, after seeing the footage. "A siphonophore colony in a line creates a curtain of deadly tentacles in the open ocean, but in THIS case, the animal is hunting in a galaxy-like spiral, the long wisp-like tentacles draped below. And the colony does not need to move to feed," she explained.

"Once a clone captures its prey—a fish or crustacean—it will reel it to the colony & other clones that work as mouths will surround it. Often many swallowing it at once. Once ... prey is digested, they'll send the nutrients through a long digestive tract that travels down the whole colony, so that every other clone can use the nutrients. In this way, this siphonophore may remain still and feed for a long time, and I mean LONG," she added.

Clearly, the Schmidt researchers are already meeting some of the goals of their project's mission, which seeks to explore the rich biodiversity in this little-explored area. They are also hoping to improve ocean management and protection.

Sources: Schmidt Ocean Institute, Newsweek

About the Author
  • Experienced research scientist and technical expert with authorships on 28 peer-reviewed publications, traveler to over 60 countries, published photographer and internationally-exhibited painter, volunteer trained in disaster-response, CPR and DV counseling.
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