Along with up to 30 new marine species, scientists have found a 45-meter example of a siphonophore, a predator from the deep sea.
Scientists exploring the deep sea off the coast of Australia have discovered up to 30 new marine species, and what may be the longest animal ever seen.
The discoveries were the result of expeditions to the submarine canyons of Western Australia. One of the biggest discoveries was a siphonophore measuring approximately 150 feet (46 meters). Siphonophores are deep-sea predators made up of many small clones that act together as one and spread out as a single long rope in the water. The researchers believe that this particular siphonophore may be the longest found so far.
The expedition also collected a number of other deep-sea animals that researchers suspected had yet to be documented, including a squid, a long-tailed sea cucumber, glass sponges, and the first giant hydroids, a colony of animals that looks like an inverted jellyfish: never seen in Australia.
Nerida Wilson, a scientific researcher at the Western Australian Museum, who led the expedition, said the discovery of the extra-long siphonophore came when many researchers on board least expected it. The research vehicle dived to a depth of 4,439 meters, but the siphonophore was only discovered when the vehicle returned to the surface at about 630 meters.
"Most of the scientists had come out of the control room," Wilson said. “Soon the word spread and people entered the control room to share the excitement. It was amazing to see this huge organism spread out like a coiled UFO, floating in the water column. We couldn't believe what we were seeing. "
Siphonophores, like jellyfish, feed by dangling sharp tentacles in the water. Small crustaceans and fish unlucky enough to swim in this curtain of tentacles are paralyzed and coiled up to the body of the colony.
The new siphonophore was about twice as long as many blue whales, and three times as long as a humpback whale, which generally grows to around 50 feet long.
Up to 30 possible new species were found during the exploration of the Gascoyne Coast bioregion.
The expedition was led by the Schmidt Ocean Institute, a non-profit group that supports oceanographic research, including the provision of a research vessel and a remotely operated vehicle, which the Australian government and scientific institutions lack otherwise. .
The discovery of the siphonophore and other possibly unknown species was made in a protected area known as the Gascoyne Coast Bioregion. This highlights what Wilson described as "one of the disconnects between where we are with conservation and understanding the ocean."
"While it is a protected area, we really have no idea what lives there," he said. "We really wanted to reveal the incredible biodiversity that exists."
Wilson acknowledged that it will be months or years before researchers are sure that the organisms they discovered are new to science. "We were definitely looking for and waiting for new species," he said. "Those waters were too unexplored not to produce such treasures."