World’s ‘Longest Animal’ Discovered in Australia’s Deep Ocean
Underwater explorers have videoed a strange and record-breaking organism in a deep ocean canyon off Australia.
The string-like creature, which was introduced to the internet by the Schmidt Ocean Institute (SOI) on Twitter April 6, is estimated to have an outer ring 154 feet long — the size of an 11-story building — and a possible total length of more than 390 feet, Newsweek reported.
"We think it's the longest animal recorded to date," SOI director of marine communications Carlie Wiener told USA TODAY.
Check out this beautiful *giant* siphonophore Apolemia recorded on #NingalooCanyons expedition. It seems likely tha… https://t.co/oiNIRLrJZ8— Schmidt Ocean (@Schmidt Ocean)1586198064.0
But the creature isn't, strictly speaking, one animal. Instead, it's a genus of siphonophore called Apolemia, as Live Science explained:
Every individual siphonophore is made up of many little "zooids," which each live lives that are more similar to animals we're used to talking about, albeit always connected to the larger colony. Zooids are born axsexually, and each one performs a function for the siphonophore's larger body, according to a research article published in the journal Developmental Dynamics in 2005. Linked together in long chains, the colonies were already known to reach lengths of up to 130 feet (40 m) according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium — though each siphonophore is only about as thick as a broomstick.
This siphonophore was videoed as part of a month-long expedition of deep sea canyons off Western Australia's Nigaloo coast undertaken by Western Australian Museum researchers on board SOI's research vessel Falkor, SOI said in a press release. In addition to the siphonophore, the researchers also discovered as many as 30 new species of marine life.
"There is so much we don't know about the deep sea, and there are countless species never before seen," SOI co-founder Wendy Schmidt said in the press release. "Our planet is deeply interconnected – what happens in the deep sea impacts life on land–and vice versa. This research is vital to advance our understanding of that connection – and the importance of protecting these fragile ecosystems. The Ningaloo Canyons are just one of many vast underwater wonders we are about to discover that can help us better understand our planet."
Rebecca Helm, an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina Asheville who was not involved with the expedition, explained on Twitter why the siphonophore was so remarkable.
She said she had seen siphonophores of around 20 centimeters to a meter (approximately eight to 39 inches), but never anything this large, and that it was hunting in a remarkable way, by making itself into a spiral to catch prey.
Some of the clones specialize in catching prey. Their slender bodies hang with a single long tentacle dangling like… https://t.co/eYxZGeyZFJ— Open Ocean Exploration (@Open Ocean Exploration)1586200189.0
...once a clone captures its prey (a fish or crustacean) it will reel it to the colony & other clones that work as… https://t.co/igvAX1ziOQ— Open Ocean Exploration (@Open Ocean Exploration)1586200599.0
"I've gone on numerous expeditions and have never, EVER, seen anything like this," she wrote.
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A Game of Jenga<p>Think of it as a game of Jenga and the planet's climate system as the tower. For generations, we have been slowly removing blocks. But at some point, we will remove a pivotal block, such as the collapse of one of the major global ocean circulation systems, for example the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), that will cause all or part of the global climate system to fall into a planetary emergency.</p><p>But worse still, it could cause runaway damage: Where the tipping points form a domino-like cascade, where breaching one triggers breaches of others, creating an unstoppable shift to a radically and swiftly changing climate.</p><p>One of the most concerning tipping points is mass methane release. Methane can be found in deep freeze storage within permafrost and at the bottom of the deepest oceans in the form of methane hydrates. But rising sea and air temperatures are beginning to thaw these stores of methane.</p><p>This would release a powerful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, 30-times more potent than carbon dioxide as a global warming agent. This would drastically increase temperatures and rush us towards the breach of other tipping points.</p><p>This could include the acceleration of ice thaw on all three of the globe's large, land-based ice sheets – Greenland, West Antarctica and the Wilkes Basin in East Antarctica. The potential collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is seen as a key tipping point, as its loss could eventually <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/324/5929/901" target="_blank">raise global sea levels by 3.3 meters</a> with important regional variations.</p><p>More than that, we would be on the irreversible path to full land-ice melt, causing sea levels to rise by up to 30 meters, roughly at the rate of two meters per century, or maybe faster. Just look at the raised beaches around the world, at the last high stand of global sea level, at the end of the Pleistocene period around 120,0000 years ago, to see the evidence of such a warm world, which was just 2°C warmer than the present day.</p>
Cutting Off Circulation<p>As well as devastating low-lying and coastal areas around the world, melting polar ice could set off another tipping point: a disablement to the AMOC.</p><p>This circulation system drives a northward flow of warm, salty water on the upper layers of the ocean from the tropics to the northeast Atlantic region, and a southward flow of cold water deep in the ocean.</p><p>The ocean conveyor belt has a major effect on the climate, seasonal cycles and temperature in western and northern Europe. It means the region is warmer than other areas of similar latitude.</p><p>But melting ice from the Greenland ice sheet could threaten the AMOC system. It would dilute the salty sea water in the north Atlantic, making the water lighter and less able or unable to sink. This would slow the engine that drives this ocean circulation.</p><p><a href="https://www.carbonbrief.org/atlantic-conveyor-belt-has-slowed-15-per-cent-since-mid-twentieth-century" target="_blank">Recent research</a> suggests the AMOC has already weakened by around 15% since the middle of the 20th century. If this continues, it could have a major impact on the climate of the northern hemisphere, but particularly Europe. It may even lead to the <a href="https://ore.exeter.ac.uk/repository/handle/10871/39731?show=full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cessation of arable farming</a> in the UK, for instance.</p><p>It may also reduce rainfall over the Amazon basin, impact the monsoon systems in Asia and, by bringing warm waters into the Southern Ocean, further destabilize ice in Antarctica and accelerate global sea level rise.</p>
The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation has a major effect on the climate. Praetorius (2018)
Is it Time to Declare a Climate Emergency?<p>At what stage, and at what rise in global temperatures, will these tipping points be reached? No one is entirely sure. It may take centuries, millennia or it could be imminent.</p><p>But as COVID-19 taught us, we need to prepare for the expected. We were aware of the risk of a pandemic. We also knew that we were not sufficiently prepared. But we didn't act in a meaningful manner. Thankfully, we have been able to fast-track the production of vaccines to combat COVID-19. But there is no vaccine for climate change once we have passed these tipping points.</p><p><a href="https://www.weforum.org/reports/the-global-risks-report-2021" target="_blank">We need to act now on our climate</a>. Act like these tipping points are imminent. And stop thinking of climate change as a slow-moving, long-term threat that enables us to kick the problem down the road and let future generations deal with it. We must take immediate action to reduce global warming and fulfill our commitments to the <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Paris Agreement</a>, and build resilience with these tipping points in mind.</p><p>We need to plan now to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, but we also need to plan for the impacts, such as the ability to feed everyone on the planet, develop plans to manage flood risk, as well as manage the social and geopolitical impacts of human migrations that will be a consequence of fight or flight decisions.</p><p>Breaching these tipping points would be cataclysmic and potentially far more devastating than COVID-19. Some may not enjoy hearing these messages, or consider them to be in the realm of science fiction. But if it injects a sense of urgency to make us respond to climate change like we have done to the pandemic, then we must talk more about what has happened before and will happen again.</p><p>Otherwise we will continue playing Jenga with our planet. And ultimately, there will only be one loser – us.</p>
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