Something that looks a lot like a piece of human excrement may qualify as a new species of marine life thriving off the southeastern United States.
The still-to-be-named lump was found Nov. 2 by a NOAA research team that was recording seafloor life about 2,500 feet down, off Port Canaveral, Florida.
Suddenly, near the end of the dive, the remote control camera spotted something “unusual” -- a feces-like pile on the sea floor that had a whiskery skirt of hairs.
The researchers were stumped at the blob but suspect it may be a type of “never before seen” glass sponge.
“It was determined that it may be a new species or a range expansion for a species that has only been found in the Antarctic region,” NOAA explained in a report. “The sponge was collected in its entirety. Our onboard science team will collect its DNA and then preserve it to share with the Smithsonian for further research by interested scientists.”
Glass sponges are so named because “their tissues contain glass-like structural particles, called spicules, that are made of silica,” NOAA says.
In other words, they have skeletons made of glass.
The creature was found “on a ridge topped with a series of mounds” that was being mapped as part of the 2019 Southeastern U.S. Deep-sea Exploration. The expedition continues through Nov. 21 and will include scientists from NOAA, Florida Atlantic University, the University of Miami and the University of Louisiana.
“The deep waters off the U.S. Southeast remain the most poorly mapped and characterized areas on the U.S. East Coast and contain a wide diversity of poorly explored deep water habitats and geological features,” NOAA says.
Finding previously unknown species is among the expedition’s goals, along with identifying U.S. maritime heritage sites (shipwrecks) and investigating “sonar anomalies,” which are mysterious sea floor sites that defy explanation.