Giant eyeball puts biodiversity in focus

Giant eyeballs aren’t a regular topic of conversation for FIU professor Heather Bracken-Grissom. But then again, such things don’t normally wash ashore in South Florida.

A softball-size eyeball was found on Pompano Beach Oct. 10. The strange blue orb, found by a beachgoer, left people from all across the country wondering to which creature it could possibly belong. Social media sites lit up. It was a top trending story on the Internet. Pictures of the eyeball appeared in most major newspapers and on many major network news programs throughout the United States.

“I think this catches the public’s eye — no pun intended — because it introduces people to the mysterious creatures lurking in our oceans,” Bracken-Grissom said. “People are intrigued by the unknown, and this discovery educates the community about the fascinating and sometimes strange biodiversity throughout the world’s oceans.”

Bracken-Grissom, a professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, focuses her research on biodiversity and most recently identified what a long-elusive monster larva matures into as an adult. On the topic of the lone eyeball, she fielded calls from the Associated Press, Channel 6 News, HLN Network, Turner Broadcast and many more media outlets trying to solve the mystery. Her thoughts on the matter, after consulting with several colleagues, were that it had characteristics consistent with a deep sea squid or large swordfish.

Earlier this week, scientists from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said they believe the eyeball does indeed belong to an unfortunate swordfish. Aside from it now missing its eye, marks on the specimen indicate it was freshly cut from its socket, meaning the rest of the fish is likely in the hands of a fisherman. The commission is conducting genetic testing to confirm the hypothesis.

Bracken-Grissom said she welcomes the attention this eyeball brought to the biodiversity lurking in the world’s oceans, even if it was driven by an affinity for the absurd.