Real-life versions of cartoon best friends SpongeBob Squarepants and Patrick Star were sitting side by side at the bottom of the sea when marine researchers spotted them.
Controlling a remotely operated vehicle, the scientists discovered the square(ish) yellow sponge and five-pointed pink sea star at the Retriever Seamount off the coast of New England on July 27, at a depth of 6,184 feet (1,885 meters). The researchers, from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), were exploring the seamount as part of the expedition Atlantic Stepping Stones onboard the ship Okeanos Explorer. NOAA shared images of the peculiar pair as part of a Facebook livestream.
When Christopher Mah, a marine biologist at Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History and an expert on sea stars, saw the images, he immediately noticed the resemblance with Nickelodeon's cartoon characters. "I normally avoid these [references], but wow. Real-life SpongeBob and Patrick," Mah wrote on Twitter alongside a screengrab of the sponge and sea star.
The comparison to Bikini Bottom's dynamic duo was made "as soon as I saw them on video," Mah told Live Science.
The official SpongeBob Squarepants Instagram account also joined in on the fun and shared an image of the real-life creatures alongside their cartoon counterparts.
"The sponge is [in] the genus Hertwigia and the sea star is [in] the genus Chondraster," Mah said. The exact species is unclear, and they could even be brand new to science, he added.
The photo is particularly interesting to scientists because it is rare to find bright-yellow sponges at this depth. Most deep-sea sponges are white or other neutral colors, which helps them blend in with their surroundings, according to Smithsonian Magazine.
Unfortunately, the comparisons with the cartoon characters end with appearances, because in real life the two creatures are far from friends. "This species of starfish has been observed feeding on sponges," Mah said. And it is possible that this may have happened after the camera stopped rolling, he added.
SpongeBob Squarepants was created by animator and marine scientist Stephen Hillenburg to help educate children about marine life. The TV show debuted in 1999 and is still going strong today.
"I'm happy that the photo has brought delight to so many people," Mah said. "I hope it also brings awareness to the deep sea as a habitat, which has been threatened by mining and deep-sea fishing."
Originally published on Live Science.
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Harry is a U.K.-based senior staff writer at Live Science. He studied marine biology at the University of Exeter before training to become a journalist. He covers a wide range of topics including space exploration, planetary science, space weather, climate change, animal behavior, evolution and paleontology. His feature on the upcoming solar maximum was shortlisted in the "top scoop" category at the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ) Awards for Excellence in 2023.