Eltanin Antenna: From Alien Artefact to Carnivorous Sponge

The Eltanin Antenna turned out to be an unusual carnivorous sponge called Cladorhiza concrescens (or Chondrocladia concrescens).(Image: US Government. The Eltanin Antenna pictured in 1964)

In 1964, while photographing the deep seabed west of Cape Horn, the Antarctic oceanographic research ship USNS Eltanin stumbled across a bizarre object that would baffle the scientific community for years to come. Resembling some sort of man-made aerial, the object of unknown origin appeared to be anchored to the seabed in around 13,000 feet of water.

It wasn’t long before myriad theories were posited to explain the so-called Eltanin Antenna. Some suggested it had fallen off a ship, while others hypothesised that the mysterious object was some sort of top secret Soviet broadcasting device. 1964 was, of course, the height of the Cold War.

Other fringe proponents and conspiracy theorists, including retired New Zealand airline pilot Bruce Cathie and UFO proponent, suggested the Eltanin Antenna could be an extraterrestrial artefact. Treehugger writes that “The shape of the object and the angle of its spokes, [Cathie] said, fit precisely into a formula he believed extraterrestrials used to control humanity.” The website also quoted Cathie as saying:

“The nodal points of the two grids, when joined by series of small and great circles formed what I have loosely termed polar squares around the north and south geographic poles. It was when I carried out a geometric and mathematical analysis of these sections that I found a direct connection with light, gravity and mass equivalents in a harmonic sense.”

It wasn’t until many years after its discovery that the truth behind the Eltanin Antenna was finally revealed. A. F. Amos, an oceanographer who had been aboard the USNS Eltanin back in the ’60s, pointed researchers to a 1971 book called The Face of the Deep by Bruce C. Heezen and Charles D. Hollister.

1888 illustration of Cladorhiza concrescens sponge.(Image: Alexander Agassiz. The 1888 illustration of Cladorhiza concrescens)

It turned out the alien artefact was actually a carnivorous sponge called Cladorhiza concrescens (or Chondrocladia concrescens). Heezen and Hollister’s work included a drawing which originated in American scientist Alexander Agassiz’s 1888 book Three Cruises of the Blake (above). Agassiz described the deep water sponge as having “a long stem ending in ramifying roots, sunk deeply into the mud. The stem has nodes with four to six club-like appendages. They evidently cover like bushes extensive tracts of the bottom.”

Meanwhile, Bruce Heezen and Charles Hollister said that Cladorhiza concrescens “somewhat resembles a space-age microwave antenna”, reflecting how the “Eltanin Antenna” was mistaken for a man-made broadcasting device, if not an alien one. As Treehugger summed up: “It all goes to show that while the human imagination can invent new worlds full of strange, fascinating creatures–there’s no shortage of such things on this world as well.”

Read Next: 10 Enduring Cold War Mysteries & Conspiracy Theories

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