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‘Massive’ creature found lurking in underwater tunnel and discovered as new species

Below the blue-green waters of the Vietnamese coast lurked a “massive” creature. The animal went largely unnoticed until scuba diving scientists took a closer look at it — and discovered a new species.

Researchers were surveying the marine life of Ha Long Bay in a series of scuba dives, according to a study published June 16 in the Journal of Marine Science and Engineering.

Peering into a “semi-dark” tunnel, they spotted a large sea sponge, the study said. Scattered around shallow rocks and reefs, they collected eight of these sponges.

Looking closer, researchers discovered a new species of sea sponge: Cladocroce pansinii.

Cladocroce pansinii sponges are “generally massive” with a “tubular” shape, the study said. In the “sheltered” bay, the sponges reached about 8 inches in size. Their shapes varied but most had a “light green” coloring.

Photos show several Cladocroce pansinii sponges. One is taller with several thick tubes. Another is longer with skinny, almost vine-like branches. A third, slightly yellowish sponge is shorter and wider.

Cladocroce pansinii sponges photographed underwater.

Cladocroce pansinii sponges were named after Maurizio Pansini to honor “his fundamental contribution to sponge taxonomy,” researchers said.

The new species was identified as distinct based on its body shape and DNA.

After identifying the new species, researchers realized that several other sponge specimens found in Hawai’i and Thailand were previously misidentified but were actually Cladocroce pansinii sponges. These misidentified sponges were “light blue, light gray (and) violet” in color, the study said.

The research team included Marco Bertolino, Carlo Cerrano, Giorgio Bavestrello, Do Cong Thung, Laura Núñez-Pons, Francesca Rispo, Jana Efremova, Valerio Mazzella, Daisy Monica Makapedua and Barbara Calcinai.

During their surveys, researchers also discovered a new species of “shaggy” purple sponge in Indonesia, recorded the first Indonesian sighting of another sponge species and provided updated descriptions of a fourth sponge species.

“Our work expands the knowledge of species distribution along iconic hotspots of the Indo-Pacific Oceans and inspires research on marine biodiversity,” researchers said.

Ha Long Bay is along the northern coast of Vietnam, about 100 miles east of Hanoi.

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