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Sea Whip / Sea Fan / Gorgonian (Phylum Cnidaria) - Reef Reality Episode 11

The video for this episode is coming soon!!

Sea Whip / Sea Fan / Gorgonian (Phylum Cnidaria) - Reef Reality Episode 11

Reef Reality Episode Voice Over

There are approximately 500 different species of gorgonian, which can be found in all of the Earth’s oceans.  Many species look like plants, although they are in fact animals, and each colony is made up of hundreds of individual polyps. They come in bright colours and a variety of shapes, ranging from fans to long whip-like structures. Some species actually provide a home for other small marine creatures, notably the pigmy sea horse and brittle stars.


Gorgonians belong to the same sub-species as soft coral.  Although they often look like plants, they are in fact animals.  They are sessile, which means that they do not move about. Gorgonians come in many different varieties: some are fan-like, some look like trees and others are long and thin, like whips.  They can come in a range of different colours, but those on coral reefs are typically bright red, purple or yellow. Gorgonians are made up of hundreds of tiny individual polyps, which are joined together by a layer of germs (gastrodermis) and jelly-like mesoglea to form a ‘colony’.  The shape of the colony is normally erect, flattened and branching. Sea whips are different: their construction is long and thin, and the filaments are flexible in order to bend with the ocean currents.

Regions & Habitats

Gorgonians are found throughout the world’s oceans, but especially in tropical and sub-tropical regions. The fan-shaped species tend to live in shallower water, particularly on reefs, whereas the long, thin sea whips are usually found at much greater depths.  Most varieties anchor themselves to a rocky surface, although some live on sandy sea beds.

Feeding & Behavior

Gorgonians are filter feeders.  Each polyp has eight tentacles that catch plankton and particulate matter from the water flowing through the colony. The fan or whip is oriented according to the prevailing current in order to maximise the throughput of water. The way in which the polyps are joined together means that one part of the structure can provide nutrition for the entire colony. Some species of gorgonian have a symbiotic relationship with zooxanthellae, a form of algae, which provides the colony with additional nutrition through photosynthesis.

Vulnerability & Resilience

Gorgonian are fairly common, and their status is healthy.

Red List Status

Not evaluated for the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.


1)    Pollution – all marine creatures are at risk from the pollution of the seas.  Industry, agriculture, oil spillages and garbage all contribute to this growing problems
2)    Coral bleaching – this is the loss of colour in corals as a result of stressful environmental conditions, which threaten the very existence of the reefs. The primary factor is thought to be rising sea temperatures, caused by global warming.
3)    Sediment run-off – sediment is stirred up by underwater currents, blocking out sunlight and preventing photosynthesis. Nutrients in the sediment also encourage unhealthy levels of algal blooms.

How to help

1) Avoid using household cleaners weed-killers and pest repellents that contain chemicals, since these will leach into the ground water and eventually reach the sea.

2) CLICK HERE for 40 Marine Conservation Tips - How YOU can Make a Difference!

Submitted by The Reef Reality Series on Oct 31, 2010