Wednesday 1 June 2016

Sea sponge the size of a minivan discovered in ocean depths off Hawaii

Scientists find immense creature 2,100m below surface of the ocean
Researcher: ‘It’s probably in the order of centuries to millennia old’

Saturday 28 May 201614.20 BSTLast modified on Saturday 28 May 201615.49 BST

Deep sea scientists exploring the remote waters between Hawaii and Midway atoll have found a gigantic sea sponge “about the size of a minivan” that could be the oldest animal on earth.

“It’s probably on the order of centuries to millennia old,” lead researcher Daniel Wagner told the Guardian. The sponge, the largest on record, is “about 12ft wide and 7ft long” he said, “so about the size of a minivan”.

The creature was discovered about 2,100m (7,000ft) down, in a marine conservation area between north-western Hawaii and Midway. The area is largely unexplored, Wagner said, and “over 98% of the area of this monument is below 100m, so below something that we would ever be able to dive through with scuba diving”.

A remote-operated submersible found the sponge while exploring the depths of the Papahānaumokuākea marine park. Cast into the sub’s lights, the sponge’s brain-like folds appear in a pale, nearly white shade of blue.

Scientists described the animal this week, in the journal Marine Biodiversity.

Wagner said they could not be sure of the sponge’s age, since the animals lack growth rings found in corals that are similar to terrestrial trees.

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