Exploration / North Pacific

'Forest of the weird' discovered in Pacific Ocean

Written by Oceanographic Staff

In 2017, a team of NOAA explorers discovered what they called a ‘forest of the weird’ deep in the Pacific Ocean.

In 2017, as part of an expedition by the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, scientists discovered a ‘forest of the weird’ over a mile beneath the Pacific Ocean. Oddly shaped corals and glass sponges with their concave sides directed towards the current made up the unexpected terrain.

On a submerged volcano, the research team spotted frizzy bottlebrushes (Rhodaniridogorgia), Narella corals with pink brittlestars wrapped around their branches, frilly Aspidoscopulia sponge, as well as a glass sponge on stalks that looked a lot like an alien, thus being named ‘the ET sponge’ by the team. According to The Guardian, in 2020, “it was given the scientific name Advhena magnifica – the magnificent alien”.

Farreid glass sponges are visible in the foreground of this fairly high-density sponge community found at about 2,360 meters (7,740 feet) depth. Corals were also present, but in lower abundance. Iridogorgia and bamboo coral in the background.

The ET sponge has only been seen once before this discovery – near the Mariana Trench. Postdoctoral researcher Cristiana Castello Branco who inspected the specimen at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History said: “It’s a unique shape. These kinds of environments with this diversity of sponges are more common than we used to think.”

Watch the exciting moment the team discovers the ‘forest of the weird’ here:

Photography and videography courtesy of NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2017 Laulima O Ka Moana.

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