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Gorgonian Coral

June 3, 2014 by staff 

Gorgonian Coral, Gorgonacea is an order of sessile colonial cnidarian found throughout the oceans of the world, especially in the tropics and subtropics. Gorgonians are also known as sea whips or sea fans and are similar to the sea pen, a soft coral. Gorgonians are closely related to, but technically not coral, themselves. Individual tiny polyps form colonies that are normally erect, flattened, branching, and reminiscent of a fan. Others may be whiplike, bushy, or even encrusting. The name “Gorgonacea” is no longer considered valid and Alcyonacea is now the accepted name for the order.

The structure of a gorgonian colony varies. The suborder Holaxonia skeletons are formed from a flexible, horny substance called gorgonin. The suborder Scleraxonia variety of gorgonians are supported by a skeleton of tightly grouped calcareous spicules. There are also species which encrust like coral. Most of holaxonia and sclerazonia, however, do not attach themselves to a hard substrate. Instead, they anchor themselves in mud or sand.

Research has shown that measurements of the gorgonin and calcite within several long-lived species of gorgonians can be useful in paleoclimatology and paleoceanography, as the skeletal growth rate and composition of these species is highly correlated with seasonal and climatic variation.

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