A gorgonian, also known as a sea whip or sea fan, is an order of sessile colonial cnidarians found throughout the oceans of the world, especially in the tropics and subtropics. Gorgonians are similar to the sea pen, another soft coral. Individual tiny polyps form colonies that are normally erect, flattened, branching, and reminiscent of a fan. Others may be whip-like, bushy, or even encrusting. A colony can be several feet high and across but only a few inches thick. They may be brightly colored, often purple, red, or yellow.
Examples of an encrusting gorgonian are the briareum sp. It has long, grass-like polyps which are normally extended continuously, retracted only when disturbed. Briareum sp. can have multiple forms including encrusting, flat or knobby crusts, or upright branches.
Gorgonians are found primarily in shallow waters, though some have been found at depths of several thousand feet. The size and shape, and appearance of the gorgonians tend to populate shallower areas with strong currents, while the taller thinner, and stiffer gorgonians can be found in deeper, calmer waters.