The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) found the world’s biggest sea sponge while performing a deep-sea expedition with a remotely operated vehicle (ROV). Experts are shocked with the size of the massive deep-sea creature that is estimated to be at least 1,000 years old.
Sea sponges are not often considered living creatures but underwater plants. Yet, this rare specimen belongs to the animal kingdom since they are multicellular organisms with bodies full of pores and channels that allow water to pass thru their bodies.
This type of animals doesn’t have nervous circulatory or digestive systems. They rely on the water flow that passes throughout their bodies with which they can obtain nutrients, oxygen and remove wastes.
The shape of the sponges body especially adapts to their habitat, so the largest amount of water flow can pass through their central cavity where nutrients are obtained. Sponges are most commonly freshwater species, yet the vast majority of them is found in salted water habitats in depths of even 8,800 meters.
From 5,000 to 10,000 species of sea sponges are known by researchers, while the majority of them feeds on bacteria and other water particles. There are few species that can endure into a photosynthesizing process, thanks to micro-organisms that live inside of them, with which they can produce oxygen and food resources.
Several species of sponges have evolved into carnivores thanks to their food-poor environments, although they mainly feed on small crustaceans. Most sponges are hermaphroditic, meaning they have both sexes. Reproduction works thanks to the male sponge releasing sperm into the water column, that then is delivered to the female sponges to reproduce. Fertilization of the sponges occurs internally. Planktonic larvae are released from the female side of the sponge to float in the sponge’s water column for a few days to then settle down and start its growing process. As the specimen reproduces, its sexual role changes.
Sea sponges are as common to find as corals in the ocean. Previous research has proven the specimen can evolve into massive sizes. The existence of this animals in the marine environment provides key ecosystem services by filtering large amounts of seawater and providing a habitat to invertebrate and microbial species.
One of the largest sea sponges was found in a colony off the shores of western Canada in 1887, measuring around 3.4 meters in length, 1.1 meters in height and 0.5 meters in width. Yet a recent deep-water investigation revealed a massive sponge at the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.
The World’s largest sea sponge
The ROV Okeanos Explorer is an exploratory vessel owned by the NOAA and has been providing key information about deep water environments since 2010. While performing an exploration last summer, the vehicle found the world’s largest sponge recalled by sea investigators.
The vehicle was diving in Hawaii’s Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in August when it encountered the massive sponge that measured 3.5 meters in length, 2.0 meters in height and 1.5 meters in width. Investigators are comparing the size of the sponge to a large van vehicle.
The height and the width of the sponge were measured from horizontal images taken by the vehicle. The length was measured from overhead images taken by the ROV. Investigators later applied an image analysis software to obtain the correct measurements.
The sponge wasn’t sampled, but investigators recollected samples of a specimen in a previous dive that they believe belongs to the same species of sea sponges.
Specialists have identified the sponge as a family member of the hexactinellid family and to the Rosselidae subfamily of sponges. Researchers were shocked when finding the sponge, according to them “it appeared out of nowhere,”.
Researchers nicknamed the massive sea sponge as “the folded blanket sponge” since its form resembles a chair with a blanket on top.
Science doesn’t know much yet about the lifespan of this species, yet massive sponges are estimated to live more than 2,300 years. Researchers have estimated the sponge at 1,000 years old since it doesn’t appear to have been disturbed in a long time. Sponges take years to grow and need a sustainable habitat to obtain nutrients and reproduce.
“Finding such an enormous and presumably old sponge emphasizes how much can be learned from studying deep and pristine environments such as those found in the remote Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument,” said Daniel Wagner, a research specialist in a press release.
Research specialist Wagner explained that sponges don’t have anything to help estimate their age, yet investigations have proven that coral species and others living in marine depths are able to live for thousands of years. The oldest living coral species is estimated at 4,500 years old.
The sponge findings were published Thursday in the journal Marine Biodiversity.
Source: The largest sponge in the world?