Massive stringy creature adopts UFO-like feeding shape in deep sea discovery

A new video captured during a deep sea expedition has revealed an alien looking ‘silly string’ creature hunting prey in a mesmerizing disc-like shape. It is believed to be the biggest creature of its kind ever recorded and emphasizes how little we really know about the deep oceans.

UFO siphonophore
This UFO-shaped mass of ‘string’ is actually an animal and it is shaped this way to feed

By now it should come as no surprise that a quick trip into the dark depths of our oceans can reveal to us new creatures so bewilderingly bizarre and extra-terrestrial in appearance, that you’d be forgiven for thinking they’ve jumped straight out of a sci-fi film. The latest viral deep sea discovery by the Schmidt Ocean Institute has done just that by showing us a gigantic string-like animal that is not only mesmerizingly beautiful, but potentially the longest animal ever discovered. Experts believe it is a siphonophore, a colonial animal made up of millions of clones, but it is arguably unlike any that we already know of. It was discovered last month on a research expedition in Western Australia and highlights just how many remarkable creatures are still hiding in the deep just waiting to be discovered.

An alien discovery

The new discovery was made on a research dive in the Ningaloo Canyons, a largely unexplored region of Western Autralia, on the 16th March 2020. Video footage was recorded via a submersible device released from Schmidt Ocean’s research vessel Falkor at a depth of 631 metres. The video was first released on the Schmidt Ocean twitter page (see below) and has since been watched over 700,000 times. It was identified as siphonophore Apolemia by experts, one of 175 species of siphonophore known to science. Due to its mesmerizing UFO-like shape it was hard to accurately tell how long it was, but with a diameter of 15m and circumfrance of 47m it could potentially be over 120m in length. Schmidt oceans director of communications Carlie Wiener told USA today that “we think it’s the longest animal recorded to date”, and no she doesn’t just mean siphonophores, she means all animals period.

A colony of clones

Siphonophores 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. However what is so mind-blowing about this one is that until now they were only believed to grow from around 20cm in length to the maximum of around a metre. What makes this even more impressive is that like all siphonophores this one is actually made up of millions of clones known as ‘zooids’. Taking to twitter after the discovery Rebecca Helm, assistant professor at University of North Carolina Asheville, explained that “there are about a dozen different jobs a clone can do in the colony, and each clone is specialized to a particular task”, comparing them to a sort of hive mind like the Borg from Star Trek. She also revealed that “siphonophores are not rare, just fragile and remote”, but confessed she had never witnessed one so big or displaying such “stunning behaviour”.

Close up siphonophore NOAA
A close-up look at a siphonophore (by NOAA)

Exploring the deep

Discoveries like this make it increasingly obvious that some of the most bizarre and incredible creatures living on our planet remain hidden from us in our oceans. “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, speaking to USA today. It is her hope that continuing to explore regions like the Ningaloo Canyons will continue to help us ‘better understand our planet’ and as technology continues to improve our ability to make similar discoveries will only increase into the future. The only danger is that the damage we are doing to our oceans may kill off similarly amazing animals before we even have a chance to find them.

Falkor
The discovery was made onboard Schmidt Oceans’ Falkor research vessel

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