Red sea fan

Natural History

Sea fans look a lot like plants with colorful, forked "branches." But they're actually animals, just like their relatives, the corals and jellies. Sea fans are colonial animals—they're made up of many tiny, individual animals that work together as one.

The individual animals live along the sea fan's "branches," and look like little anemones. Using small, feathery tentacles, a sea fan feeds by capturing tiny animal plankton that drift by in the currents.


Sea fans (and their relatives, the sea whips and gorgonians) grow very slowly. In some areas, fishing trawlers snag and destroy many sea fans in their nets—some trawled near Nova Scotia were over six feet tall and 500 years old! And, because sea fans and other slow-growing deep-sea animals provide shelter for young fishes and other organisms, removing the sea fans can affect many other species.

Cool Facts

Sea fans' stems are flexible, allowing them to survive in strong currents.