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‘Minivan-sized’ sea creature discovered off Hawaii

Posted at 11:25 PM, May 28, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-28 23:25:00-04

There are countless creatures on Earth that man has yet to discover.

Two Hawaiian scientists believe they’ve come across one of them, and it’s a jaw-dropping wonder.

A “minivan-sized” sea sponge was discovered deep in the ocean near Hawaii, according to findings published this week in the scientific journal Marine Biodiversity.

Scientists aboard the NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer spotted the massive sea creature at a depth of 7,000 feet within the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, a protected U.S. National Monument spanning 140,000 square miles of ocean, during a month-long expedition from July to August of 2015.

A remote device typically used for deep sea exploration stumbled upon the mass. The scientists were on a ship on the ocean’s surface and had to keep panning out of a remote video feed in order to figure out what they were looking at.

Because of the creature’s size, researchers were able to determine it was some sort of sponge, according to NOAA scientist Daniel Wagner, who made the discovery with biologist Christopher Kelley and is the lead author of the report.

This sponge is probably a new species, Wagner said.

“Most experts who watched this video have all been coming back saying, ‘I have never seen this before,'” Wagner told CNN.

Scientists collected a sample of the sponge in an effort to identify it, or at least see to what species it may be related.

They are also trying to figure out is how old the creature is. Not a lot is known about the lifespan of sponges, but some of the bigger ones found in shallow waters are estimated to be 2,300 years old.

With a mass more than 3.5 meters long, 2 meters high and 1.5 meters wide, this creature may be centuries old, Wagner said.

Until this discovery, the largest known sponge was part of a colony found in 1887 off western Canada, according to Wagner’s report. The colony was 3.4 meters long, just over 1 meter high and only half a meter in width.

Wagner and a team of scientists anticipated finding corals and sponges while on their 2015 expedition, but they did not expect to come across anything so massive.

He suspects the region of the ocean where the creature was discovered could explain how it got so big.

“We expect this environment to be very stable, one of the most pristine places on Earth — giving it a chance to flourish,” he said.

The purpose of the Hohonu Moana expedition last year was to survey parts of Hawaii that have been unexplored, Wagner said. And the discovery of this massive sponge is just one example of the wonders lying deep beneath the ocean.

“Most people don’t realize how deep the ocean is. This is the biggest portion of our planet,” Wagner said. “Every time we go on these expeditions we find new species and creatures.”