Scientists have discovered the largest and, quite possibly, oldest sea sponge on Earth. The enormous sea sponge is estimated to be several hundred to several thousand years old, though it is impossible to know for sure. And at 11.5 feet (3.5 meters) in length, New Scientist reports, it’s as big as some cars.

Researchers came upon the sponge on a 7000-foot dive made by a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) at the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in Hawaii last summer, according to Scoop. They published their findings this week in the journal Marine Biodiversity.

Though little is known about the origins of this particular sponge, researchers believe it must have grown slowly in an undisturbed habitat for many years. Giant sponges are known to filter sea water and provide a habitat for microbial and invertebrate creatures, and this one likely plays a key role in maintaining the ecosystem around it.

“Sponges don’t have things like growth rings that can be used to estimate age,” researcher Daniel Wagner told New Scientist. “We do know, however, that several coral species that live at those depths can live to multiple hundred to even a few thousand years: the oldest one is 4500 years. Thus, my best guess is that this is likely a very old sponge on the order of century [sic] to millennia.”

You can see the team's HD footage of the sponge in the video above; watch as the ROV camera floats by the massive organism and listen as, off camera, the researchers marvel at their own discovery.

[h/t New Scientist]

Banner Image Credit: New Scientist, YouTube