Animals photo

There are giants in our world: elephants, redwoods, whales, sponges. Yes, sponges, those staid, sneezing water pumps of the ocean floor.

In a paper published last week in Marine Biodiversity researchers described the discovery of a giant sponge, measuring an estimated 12 feet by 7 feet, found 7,000 feet under the surface of the ocean inside the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in Hawaii.

“The largest portion of our planet lies in deep waters, the vast majority of which has never been explored,” Daniel Wagner, a NOAA scientist and co-author of the paper, said. “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.”

The age of the sponge is unknown, but in the paper, the researchers note that other massive sponges, found in shallower waters have estimated lifespans of 2300 years.

The sponge was spotted in a dive last year by researchers working with an underwater remote operated vehicle (ROV) off the NOAA ship, the Okeanos Explorer. The Okeanos Explorer is currently exploring the waters of the Marianas which has already helped researchers spot an out-of-this-world jellyfish. You can watch their progress live during scheduled dives and missions.