The giant eyeball from Florida that captured the world's attention came from a swordfish, scientists reported today. They said straight-line slashes on the softball-sized orb suggest that it was freshly cut out of the fish's head by a fisherman and tossed overboard. The fact that it washed ashore and was found by a beachcomber so quickly contributed to a rare string of circumstances that sparked last week's collective "ewws" and "ahhs."
"It's definitely been unusual to have a situation quite like this," Kevin Baxter, a spokesman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, told me today. The commission has been fielding tons of inquiries ever since pictures of the eerie eyeball turned up on Thursday. If you haven't seen them yet, be sure to check out the commission's Facebook page and Flickr gallery.
Observers had speculated that the eye might have come from a large fish, or a giant squid, or even a whale — but in retrospect, the scenario involving a swordfish caught at sea seems to make the most sense. Genetic testing is being conducted to confirm the hypothesis.
Here's the explanation from the commission's news release:
"After examining an eye found on a south Florida beach this week, researchers from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission believe the specimen came from a swordfish. Genetic testing will be done to confirm the identification.
"'Experts on site and remotely have viewed and analyzed the eye, and based on its color, size and structure, along with the presence of bone around it, we believe the eye came from a swordfish,' said Joan Herrera, curator of collections at the FWC’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute in St. Petersburg. 'Based on straight-line cuts visible around the eye, we believe it was removed by a fisherman and discarded.'
"The approximately softball-size eye was recovered by a citizen in Pompano Beach on Wednesday. FWC staff received the eye later that day. Swordfish are commonly fished in the Florida Straits offshore of south Florida at this time of year.
"A highly migratory fish, swordfish can be found from the surface to as deep as 2,000 feet. Swordfish in the Atlantic can reach a maximum size of over 1,100 pounds, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Swordfish feed on a wide variety of fish and invertebrates."
More sea marvels:
- Florida fishermen pick up dying giant squid
- Hawaiian squid carries a built-in light
- Boy finds a bonanza in whale vomit
- Gallery: 10 deep-sea secrets revealed
Alan Boyle is NBCNews.com's science editor. Connect with the Cosmic Log community by "liking" the log's Facebook page, following @b0yle on Twitter and adding the Cosmic Log page to your Google+ presence. To keep up with Cosmic Log as well as NBCNews.com's other stories about science and space, sign up for the Tech & Science newsletter, delivered to your email in-box every weekday. You can also check out "The Case for Pluto," my book about the controversial dwarf planet and the search for new worlds.