'Long Stringy Stingy Thingy' Sighted During Deep-Sea Expedition
Scientists from the Western Australian Museum, together with researchers from Curtin University, Geoscience Australia and Scripps Institution of Oceanography have discovered what is thought to be the longest animal ever recorded, during a survey of deep-sea canyons off Ningaloo.
The massive siphonophore was sighted during a month-long expedition onboard the Schmidt Ocean Institute’s R/V Falkor research vessel, part of a year-long initiative in Australia and the Pacific to explore deep-sea canyons and coral reefs around Australia for the first time.
Using an underwater robot, the ROV SuBastian, 20 dives were completed at depths of up to 4,500m during a total of 181 hours of exploration. The samples and data collected will be used to highlight the importance of deep-sea ecosystems and support for their protection in the face of rising ocean temperatures and other environmental dangers. The region around Ningaloo is already of particular concern due to plans to extend development by the oil and gas industries, leading to the formation of Protect Ningaloo, an endeavour to halt the planned development and save the unique Ningaloo reefs.
The team has identified the giant siphonophore as a member of the Apolemia genus, known as string jellyfish, barbed wire jellyfish, or the excellently descriptive 'long stringy stingy thingy.' The length of the newly-discovered giant is reported as 150ft (46m) – but that's only the outer ring of the structure. 'The entire creature is much, much longer,' said Logan Mock-Bunting of the Schmidt Ocean Institute. 'The crew is estimating it to be more than 120 metres in total length possibly over 390 feet long.'
Siphonophores are related to jellyfish and corals, being members of the phylum Cnidaria – jelly-like animals with stinging cells – but are of a separate class known as hydrozoans. Siphonophores are colonies of individual organisms, rather than a single animal, the most familiar of which is the Portuguese man o' war.
The discovery of the massive lengthy siphonophore was just one of many new sightings for the researchers. As many as 30 new underwater species were recorded during the expedition, and other species sighted for the first time in Western Australian waters.
'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. 'Our planet is deeply interconnected–what happens in the deep sea impacts life on land–and vice versa. This research is vital to advance our understanding of that connection–and the importance of protecting these fragile ecosystems. The Ningaloo Canyons are just one of many vast underwater wonders we are about to discover that can help us better understand our planet.'