Deep and dark corners of our oceans keep offering us glimpses of what we've yet to discover. Transparent blobs, neon-bright electric fish, amongst other ocean creatures sometimes show scientists glimpses of themselves, but there's still more out there.
Schmidt Ocean Institute marine scientists aboard the Falkor research ship have shared a video of such a creature they found off the coast of western Australia, and it resembles a never-ending white string set up in a "galaxy-like spiral" as it hunts its prey.
It's still unclear exactly how long it is, but the outer ring of the siphonophore was estimated to be nearly 47 meters (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.
Check out this beautiful *giant* siphonophore Apolemia recorded on #NingalooCanyons expedition. It seems likely that this specimen is the largest ever recorded, and in strange UFO-like feeding posture. Thanks @Caseywdunn for info @wamuseum @GeoscienceAus @CurtinUni @Scripps_Ocean pic.twitter.com/QirkIWDu6S— Schmidt Ocean (@SchmidtOcean) April 6, 2020
Even though they look relatively harmless, siphonophores are in fact deep-sea predators that are related to jellyfish and corals. By using their curtain of stinging cells, the siphonophores are able to catch their prey, which consist mostly of little crustaceans, fish, and sometimes other siphonophores.
What you see in the video is, in fact, thousands of individual little clone bodies working together as a team, which ends up looking like a long string.
The sight was captured on March 16, at a depth of 631 meters (2070 feet).
"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."
Omg I have CHILLS. This is an ANIMAL. I'm guessing it's over a hundred feet long, forming a spiral in the middle of the deep sea. I've gone on numerous expeditions and have never, EVER, seen anything like this. Let me tell you what this is and why it is blowing my mind [a thread] https://t.co/6SoWmfxsJH— Open Ocean Exploration (@RebeccaRHelm) April 6, 2020
The indredible video caught the eye of Rebecca Helm, who runs a lab that specifically studies jellyfish at the University of North Carolina in Asheville. Helm has posted a Twitter thread explaining in comprehensible detail to try and explain why this discovery is so exciting and important.
As Helm excitedly stated on Twitter: "I've gone on numerous expeditions and have never, EVER, seen anything like this. THIS animal is massive. AND not just massive, the colony is exhibiting a stunning behavior: it's hunting."
...most of the siphonophore colonies I've seen are maybe a 20cm long, maybe a meter. But THIS animal is massive. AND not just massive, the colony is exhibiting a stunning behavior: it's hunting....— Open Ocean Exploration (@RebeccaRHelm) April 6, 2020
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...— Open Ocean Exploration (@RebeccaRHelm) April 6, 2020
...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...— Open Ocean Exploration (@RebeccaRHelm) April 6, 2020
...when a remotely operated vehicle sees one, the siphonophore quickly gets tossed in the swirling water around the machine (like the one below by @SchmidtOcean). I've seen long strands of siphonophores, *occasionally* a small spiral, but THIS!? This... pic.twitter.com/LqVQqKHXSx— Open Ocean Exploration (@RebeccaRHelm) April 6, 2020