May 27, 2013 by Natali Anderson
A team of marine researchers from New Zealand has used remote operated vehicles to collect specimens of sea pen previously unknown to science.
Sea pens are colonial marine animals that get their name from their resemblance to old-fashioned writing pens. They colonize the seabed and ledges by burying themselves in soft sediment, but, unlike coral, they lack a hard ‘outer skeleton’. At night, sea pens are luminous, which helps to attract the phytoplankton they feed on.
“They’re essentially row-upon-row of feeding polyps growing out of a soft stalk, hence their resemblance to feathers or quill pens,” explained team member Dr Sean Handley of the New Zealand’s National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research.
The team collected new sea pens in February, 2013 at a depth of about 80 m in Fiordland National Park, New Zealand.
“We found two specimens of two different species,” Dr Handley said.
“At 65 cm long, the specimens are among the largest sea pens found in New Zealand. Elsewhere, however, sea pens of up to 2 m in length have been found.”
“They will be logged in a biodiversity database and then international sea pen experts will be consulted to help formally identify and name them.”
“This was our second exploration of Fiordland’s deep waters in the last few years, and on both occasions we’ve discovered previously unknown fauna. We can only guess at the treasure trove of life still waiting to be discovered down there.”
“Sea pen colonies generally indicate an unpolluted, undisturbed environment,” Dr Handley said.
“These discoveries, and the prospect of many more to come, reinforce the importance of the Fiordland Marine Area at both a national and international level,” concluded Malcolm Lawson, Chairman of the Fiordland Marine Guardians.
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