A video captured and shared on YouTube by SouthernIslanderDive shows the incredible – and somewhat disturbing – moment an underwater sea creature expels a long, spiraled poop from a big, black hole.
Posted back in mid-July, the channel shares underwater snapshots of marine life around Japan’s waters. Molly Zaleski, a marine biologist based in Southeast Alaska, told IFLScience the slug-esque animal is a sea cucumber and it’s actually doing something incredibly normal.
“It’s pooping,” said Zaleski, who is not affiliated with the YouTube channel. “[Sea cucumbers] basically clean the sand by eating it and digesting the detritus/interstitial flora and fauna – a fancy way of saying the plants and animals that live in the sand – and poop out the indigestible sand.”
Sea cucumbers are related to sea urchins and starfish in the echinoderm family, according to the National Wildlife Federation. The cucumber-shaped scavengers pick up small bits of algae, aquatic invertebrates, and other animals’ waste with tube feet surrounding their mouths. These tiny particles are broken down into smaller pieces, which are reused by bacteria and other animals in the ocean ecosystem.
"The process of [sea cucumbers] cleaning the sand like this is called bioturbation," said Zaleski. "They are able to change the habitat in a positive way and can aid in the biodiversity of their ecosystem simply by reworking the sediment around them."
Invertebrate zoologist Christopher Mah, in an interview with Live Science, who first reported the video, identified the sea cucumber as Thelenota anax, commonly found throughout the ocean waters of the Indo-West Pacific, from eastern Africa and Australia to the Philippines and Cook Islands.
Found in nearly every body of water around the world, most sea cucumber populations are stable. However, the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species considers the giant sea cucumber – which can reach lengths of more than 6 feet (1.8 meters) – is a rare species found at a variety of habitats at depths between 10 and 30 meters (32 and 100 feet). In the last two decades, sea cucumber stocks have been so depleted that certain species now face extinction. Appetites in Asia for the squishy echinoderm have expanded fisheries into more than 70 countries whose ocean ecologies could face consequences as a result.
[H/T: Live Science]