Oceana Identifies Carnivorous Sponge in the Mediterranean - Oceana USA
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June 28, 2011

Oceana Identifies Carnivorous Sponge in the Mediterranean

Exciting news from across the pond: Oceana scientists, along with scientists from German and Italian universities, have identified carnivorous sponges in the deep waters of the Mediterranean in Spain and Italy.

Although the species, Asbestopluma hypogea, was first discovered in the 1990s, very little was known about it until recently. Oceana’s research vessel, Ranger, made crucial discoveries about the sponge’s habitat using an underwater robot (ROV) during its 2007 and 2010 expeditions.

Asbestopluma hypogea is no ordinary sea sponge. Most sea sponges obtain nutrients by filtering tiny food particles out of the surrounding water as it flows past the sponge – but not Asbestopluma hypogea. This tiny carnivorous sea sponge has adapted to life in areas where food is scarce. They capture small crustaceans using filaments covered with hook-like spicules, taking more than 10 days to finish each meal. And that’s despite having no digestive tract, limited mobility and being very tiny (between 1 and 1.5 centimeters). How cool is that?

Until now, the sponge had only been identified in three locations in the entire Mediterranean, in French and Croatian coastal caves between 15 and 26 meters deep. The new discoveries expand its distribution to 700 meters and include five new sites.

The discovery, published in the last issue of the scientific journal Zootaxa, is an important step toward protecting the areas in which this species lives. Oceana is working to protect Asbestopluma hypogea’s habitat; proposed areas include the seamounts of Ausias March (Balearic Islands) and Enareta (Tyrrhenian Sea), among others.

And last week the Oceana Ranger embarked on another research expedition, this time, headed for seamounts and sea canyons in the Mediterranean and the Atlantic. We can’t wait to see what the Ranger crew discovers this year!