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Thursday, April 9, 2020

April 09, 2020

Scientists on a research vessel spotted a giant creature that has been compared to a mass of silly string floating off western Australia.

The Schmidt Ocean Institute shared a stunning video of the Apolemia, a type of siphonophore, on Twitter Monday that was captured during an expedition of the deep sea Ningaloo Canyons. Although it's unclear exactly how long the animal is, the pilot of a remotely operated vehicle used lasers to determine the size of the siphonophore’s outer ring and estimated it was 154 feet long based on its diameter.
"We think it's the longest animal recorded to date," Carlie Wiener, director of marine communications at the institute, told USA TODAY.

Siphonophore are deep-sea predators related to jellyfish and corals that catch prey including tiny crustaceans, fish, and even other siphonophores in their curtain of stinging cells, according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute.Weiner said the gelatinous colony is made up of thousands of individual, specialized clone bodies that work together as a team.

The video was taken March 16 at a depth of 631 meters while researchers from the Western Australian Museum were diving, Weiner said. Researchers on the Schmidt Ocean Institute's ship Falkor just finished a monthlong expedition during which they completed 20 dives and, pending genetic confirmation, may have discovered up to 30 new species.
“There is so much we don’t know about the deep sea, and there are countless species never before seen,” said Wendy Schmidt, co-founder of Schmidt Ocean Institute, in a statement. “The Ningaloo Canyons are just one of many vast underwater wonders we are about to discover that can help us better understand our planet.”
Weiner said the team has been broadcasting live connections from the ship to provide children stuck at home with science content to learn from.

"The ability to continue to do science and bring remarkable footage and something really positive to the world has been really nice," she said.
The video caught the eye of Rebecca Helm, who runs a lab that studies the development and evolution of jellyfish at the University of North Carolina Asheville. She crafted a Twitter thread to explain why the sighting was so significant.
"I've gone on numerous expeditions and have never, EVER, seen anything like this," she wrote in a tweet. "THIS animal is massive. AND not just massive, the colony is exhibiting a stunning behavior: it's hunting."
Helm said the creature is hunting in a "galaxy-like spiral" using some specialized clones to catch prey and others to digest it and send the nutrients throughout the entire colony.

She noted that it's hard to tell how old a creature like this is, but because it takes so long for life to grow at the near-freezing temperatures of the deep sea, it could be "tens, possibly HUNDREDS of years old."
"There are millions, probably billions of underwater siphonophore galaxies out there just like this one. Siphonophores are not rare, just fragile and remote," Helm wrote. "As we explore the ocean's more, who knows what other creatures we will see."