The order Alcyonacea (formerly Gorgonacea) is the formal name of a group of more than 500 species of coral that are found in oceans worldwide. In most locations, they are only found in deep water. However, in the shallow waters around Florida, Bermuda, and the West Indies, they are quite abundant. Corals, you may recall, are classified as members of the animal kingdom.
- Kingdom: Animalia
- Phylum: Cnidaria
- Class: Anthozoa
- Subclass: Octocorallia
- Order: Alcyonacea
Colloquially, Alcyonacea are referred to as sea whip, sea fan, or gorgonian coral. Their appearance can differ greatly from one species to another, but they come in a variety of bright colors such as red, yellow, purple, and white. The ‘body’ of the animal consists of series of polyps, each of which has eight tentacles employed in catching food. Their diet consists primarily of zooplankton that the polyps scarf from the water as the current flows past the animal. Most gorgonian species also maintain a symbiotic relationship with single-celled dinoflagellates which produce additional food energy for the Alcyonacea through photosynthesis.
Gorgonian coral provide a home (habitat) for various species of fish, seahorses, starfish, sharks, snails, algae, and other sea creatures. The soft coral can also become food for certain fish species.
Sea whips are thought to have long life spans of several hundred years, but they do eventually die and are washed up on beaches where they are often mistaken as discarded and tangled rope.
Gorgonians make popular and colorful additions to reef aquariums in homes, offices, and professional aquarium exhibits.
Check out the wildlife of the seabed; “Colony of Sea Whips | Oceans | BBC Earth” (2:45);
Question of the Night: Does scuba diving on a coral reef, say in the Caribbean or other tropical waters, hold any appeal for you?