Researchers exploring the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands aboard the Okeanos Explorer came across something new for the record books. A sea sponge that beats out any previous specimen for size. The sponge is nearly 12 feet long and 7 feet wide!

It is living 7,000 feet below the ocean surface, in the depths of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. As the researchers note in the video, the monument is home to the largest coral in the world, and now we know it just might also be home to the largest sponge in the world as well.

"The finding of such an enormous and presumably old sponge inside the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument underscores the need to protect this area using the highest conservation measures available," writes the team.

“The largest portion of our planet lies in deep waters, the vast majority of which has never been explored,” said Papahānaumokuākea research specialist Daniel Wagner. “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.”

An underwater rover gets up close to a massive sea sponge. An underwater rover gets up close to a massive sea sponge. (Photo: NOAA Office of Exploration and Research/Hohonu Moana 2015)

Jaymi Heimbuch ( @jaymiheimbuch ) focuses on wildlife conservation and animal news from her home base in San Francisco.

World's largest sea sponge discovered in marine national monument
Researchers came across a sea sponge so big it's about the same size as the underwater ROV documenting it.