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Long stringy thing floats on Indian Ocean, surprises scientists

Long stringy thing floats on Indian Ocean, surprises scientists

A month-long scientific expedition exploring the submarine canyons near Ningaloo in the Indian Ocean has led to the discovery of what could be the longest animal ever recorded.

It is no ordinary animal. It is a massive gelatinous string siphonophore — a floating colony of tiny individual zooids that clone themselves thousands of times into specialised bodies that string together to work as a team – estimated to be 150-foot long (45.72 metre), US-based philanthropic non-profit Schmidt Ocean Institute said on Thursday.

Also called “long stringy stringy thingy”, a siphonophore looks like one even when it is actually a colony of individuals, each specialising in different functions like feeding, reproduction, swimming.

"We suspected these deep sea areas would be diverse but we have been blown away by the significance of what we have seen," said scientist Nerida Wilson from Western Australian Museum.

The discovery of the massive gelatinous string siphonophore was just one of the unique finds among some of the deepest fish and marine invertebrates ever recorded for Western Australia.

Additionally, up to 30 new underwater species were found by researchers from the Western Australian Museum aboard Schmidt Ocean Institute's research vessel Falkor.

The scientists from the Western Australian Museum were joined by researchers from Curtin University, Geoscience Australia and Scripps Institution of Oceanography in exploring the Ningaloo Canyons in the Indian Ocean.

Using an underwater robot, ROV SuBastian, they completed 20 dives at depths of up to 4,500 metres over 181 hours of exploration.

During the expedition, scientists collected the first giant hydroids in Australia, discovered large communities of glass sponges in Cape Range Canyon, and observed for the first time in Western Australia the bioluminescent Taning's octopus squid, long-tailed sea cucumber, and a number of other molluscs, barnacle and squat lobster species.

The expedition is part of Schmidt Ocean Institute's year-long initiative in Australia and the Pacific to conduct a number of science and engineering expeditions with teams of scientists and researchers from around the world.

The footage and samples collected from the oceans that surround Australia will have important implications for the sustainability and protection of these underwater ecosystems and for similar habitats worldwide that are in peril because of rising ocean temperatures and other environmental threats..