Scientists estimate that the siphonophore they discovered is at least 150 feet long

By Eric Todisco
April 15, 2020 02:26 PM
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A 150-foot-long siphonophore spotted off the coast of Western Australia
Credit: Schmidt Ocean/Twitter

Researchers exploring the deep waters off the coast of Western Australia have discovered what they believe to be the longest animal ever recorded.

A research vessel for the Schmidt Ocean Institute (SOI) spotted a siphonophore — a deep-sea predator made up of many small clones that act together as one and spread out like a single long string in the water — that measured an estimated 150 feet (46 meters) in length.

The SOI wrote on Twitter that “it seems likely that this specimen is the largest ever recorded,” and also made notice of the organism’s “strange UFO-like feeding posture.”

According to The Guardian, the expedition also discovered several other deep-sea animals that the researchers believe have not yet been documented, including an octopus squid, a long-tailed sea cucumber, glass sponges and the first giant hydroids ever found in Australia.

Nerida Wilson, a senior research scientist at the Western Australia Museum who led the expedition, told The Guardian that the siphonophore was found as the research vehicle was making its way back to the surface at around 630 meters deep.

“Most scientists had drifted out of the control room,” Wilson said. “”he word soon spread and people came pouring into the control room to share the excitement. It was just amazing to see this huge organism spread out like a spiral UFO, hovering in the water column. We couldn’t believe what we were seeing.”

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Wilson said the discovery of the siphonophore and the other unidentified specimens occurred in a protected area known as the Gascoyne Coast bioregion.

“While it’s a protected area, we actually have no idea what lives there,” she said. “We really wanted to reveal the incredible biodiversity that is there.”

However, Wilson noted that it will take months — or even years — to find out for sure if the organisms discovered there are new to science. “We were definitely looking for and expecting new species. Those waters were just too unexplored to not yield such treasures,” she said.