“Siphonophores are deep-sea predators made up of many small clones that act together as one and spread out like a single long string in the water,” says the article.
The Schmidt Ocean Institute noticed the siphonophore while on an expedition led by Nerida Wilson. According to Wilson, when it was first spotted, many of the researchers weren’t in the control room, but after word spread that a “huge organism spread out like a spiral UFO,” people assembled in the room to “share the excitement.”
“We couldn’t believe what we were seeing.”
One reason the discovery was so startling is that it occurred when the research team was least expecting it. The deep-sea vessel dived more than 13,100 feet (4,000 meters) beneath the sea, but it wasn’t until it had started resurfacing that they saw the siphonophore, at approximately 2,070 feet (630 meters).
At 154 feet, this particular siphonophore is twice as long as most blue whales and three times as long as the average humpback whale, which can grow up to 50 feet long.
The Guardian compares siphonophores to jellyfish in that they hunt their prey similarily. Both creatures use stinging tentacles to paralyze fish and other small sea animals. The colony then feeds on its catch.
Finding the siphonophore wasn’t an easy task. Wilson pointed out that the expedition took place in a protected bioregion called the Gascoyne Coast. According to Wilson, there is a “disconnect” between knowledge and ocean conservatism.
“While it’s a protected area, we actually have no idea what lives there. We really wanted to reveal the incredible biodiversity that is there,” she said.
The official Schmidt Ocean Twitter account shared video footage of the siphonophore and its “UFO-like feeding posture.”
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
The account clarified that they don’t have an exact number for the size, but that the “154 feet” estimate comes from measuring it with lasers.
Since the Gascoyne Coast has remained relatively untouched, Wilson claims they anticipated discovering new species. However, it could take years for scientists to determine whether or not the siphonophore and other marine life found on the expedition are genuinely “new” discoveries.
Researchers exploring the deep sea along the coast of Western Australia may have also discovered up to 30 new marine species. Among their other discoveries were glass sponges, a long-tailed sea cucumber, and an octopus squid.