Large portions of the internet think the narwhal is the unicorn of the sea. Large portions of the internet are wrong. That title clearly belongs to the pyrosome, pictured here. As is often the case with legendary animals, images of giant pyrosomes tend to be low-resolution. But unlike Bigfoot or Nessie, pyrosomes are 100% real.
The ocean's true unicorn is the pyrosome – a translucent, cylindrical colony of hundreds or even thousands of individual filter-feeders called tunicates. Unlike a lot of tunicates – which often attach themselves en masse not only to one another, but the ocean floor – pyrosomes are free-floating. They can range anywhere from a few millimeters to several meters in length, and glide around the ocean's warmer upper layers via jet power (or at least one of the nearest things to jet power observed in the animal kingdom).
Pictured up top is a big one, from one of the only videos of a giant pyrosome colony on YouTube. You can watch the clip over at Deep Sea News, where Rebecca "Jelly Biologist" Helm has an awesome essay on the biology of pyrosomes, and why her first encounter with a colony almost brought her to tears:
If the Borg and the Clone Wars had baby it would be a pyrosome. One long pyrosomes is actually a collection of thousands of clones, with each individual capable of copying itself and adding to the colony. And unlike members of the Borg, which are mentally connected, pyrosome members are physicallyconnected– actually sharing tissues. And while the Borg live in a big scary ship, pyrosomes are the big scary ship. The whole colony is shaped like a giant thimble with a point on one end and an opening on the other, and in some species this opening can be up to 6 feed (2 meters) wide– large enough to fit a full grown human inside.
This is Helm's first post ever over at Deep Sea News, and trust us, it's a winner. Go check out the rest.