Australian Black Whip Coral

Jane asked a question about working with Australian Black Whip Coral.  Let me say up front, that I have never had the pleasure of working with this material.  So, I did some research and came up with the following.(if you want the short answer, go down to para 4 and skip the rest). 

First the scientific stuff; Kingdom: Animalia, Phylum: Crindaria, Class: Anthozoa (all black coral fall into this catagory), Order: Antipatharia, Famiy: Antipathidae, Genus: Cirrhipathes

Now, there is a lot of info there…As I hinted, all black coral falls into the class Anthozoa.  However, not all black corals are the same Order.  My research over the years (unscientific that is) shows that there is a great deal of confusion and disagreement over whre some of these corals fall.  For example, it is pretty much agreed that in the  Anthozoa class there are two primary orders both of which are soft (or horny) coral ; Antipharia which is mainly a deep water black coral and gorgonia in shallower waters.  Some sources class both as ‘octocorals’ which means they both have 8 septa in their biology.  However, some other sources say the Gorgonia has 8 septa while the Antipathria has only six. 

Having worked with both, I find there is no significant difference in specific gravity, both are a protein, both contain bromides and iodine, and they grow in the same manner.  A significant difference in a physical way, is the Antipatharia has a very rough skin (kind of like sharks skin) and it is harder or more brittle while the Gorgonian has a smoother skin and can be easily bent and twisted. I do not know how many Genus there are within the Antipatharian order but there are many Genuses in the Gorgonian.  One of these is the Sea Plume or Sea Feather, which is not even black having a dark or variable brown color and more of a fiberous texture rather than the concentric rings of most of the Geneses of either Orders.  But it is afterall, a true ‘octocoral’ so it fits the Anthozoa Class!

Why am I telling you all this?  Duh, just to show Jane that from a working standpoint, I believe there is a lot of similarity in the physical structre of Australian Black Whit coral and Sea Plumes.  They have very spiney protrusions, tough, and have smooth skin.  Sea Plume I have worked….a lot.  How do I smooth it Jane? The best way I have found is to make a sanding wheel out of a 6″ square of cardbord, find the center, punch a small hole, cut the cardboard round and glue on a piece of 80 -120 grit sandpaper, put that onto a tapered spindle on an electric motor and turn the length of coral against it. You are going to loose the shiney surface but read on.   Watch out for the dust….wear a dust mask and wash up immediately after a session.  Some people are sensitive to the coral dust. Next you will need a way to get it really smooth….use a Scotch brand scrubbing pad or a fine sanding sponge.  Then, on the same motor put on a 5-6″ cotton stitched muslim buff add some ZAM (or black emery if you can’t get ZAM) and polish the coral.  It will polish beautifully. Good luck, let me know how it goes. 

Cheers and Happy New Year, Don.




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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Joan Myers January 25, 2009 at 1:56 pm

I have a lot of Antipatharian coral for sale. Acquired in Hawaii in early ’60’s.
Will send pictures if requested by email. Can’t figure out how to do it here.
Joan Myers

Jane Walker January 2, 2009 at 10:24 pm

Thank you Don! That’s really, really helpful. I’ll see if I can locate ZAM over here in Oz. I eventually got a pretty good polish on the pieces I have worked using tripoli and rouge, also Dialux White. There’s a pic of a brooch I made on my website.

My coral came up out of the Exmouth Gulf (in the North of Western Australia) in a prawn trawler’s net, so fairly shallow water. I’d rather it was still living on the ocean floor, but since it isn’t, it would be a crime to waste such inherent beauty.

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