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'Sonar anomaly' off NC's coast teeming with life, NOAA says

CAPE HATTERAS, N.C. (WNCN) - During a search for shipwrecks off the North Carolina coast, a NOAA discovered a “sonar anomaly” that was teeming with life.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration was using scientific sonars aboard the ship Okeanos Explorer to search for objects on the ocean’s floor.

The sonar can detect hard surfaces that can lead to the discovery of shipwrecks.

While off the North Carolina coast, an object that appeared to be the size and shape of a ship wreck was located, NOAA said.

The sonars also located a deep dip behind that object.


“By working with archeologists on shore, we confirmed that this type of scour is typically indicative of a shipwreck in this region as soft sediment is eroded away from the backside of a wreck by the high currents of the Gulf Stream,” NOAA said in a release.

NOAA’s team thought they had discovered a large shipwreck base off that information.

World War II’s Battle of the Atlantic occurred in that area and many ships were also lost at sea off Cape Hatteras while on trade routes.

"This area is referred to as the graveyard of the Atlantic because of the high degree of shipwrecks that have occurred in this region," said maritime archaeologist Joe Hoyt.

Further mapping and testing happened earlier this week and on June 27, NOAAShip Okeanos Explorer returned to the area.

Deep Discoverer and Seirios, remote controlled devices, were sent down 330 meters (1,082 feet) where they discovered an area of broken rock slabs that was playing host to a large variety of life.

"We hoped it was the hull of a vessel, we approached it slowly and encountered a fairly steep wall of broken rock slabs and we didn't find any evidence of a shipwreck," said Leslie Sautter, an associate professor at the College of Charleston. 

Cheryl Morrison, a research geneticist, was excited about the discovery of life in the area of the rock slabs.  

"This is an important set of data to add to what we know about where corals and fishes and sensitive habitat are," Morrison said. 

NOAA named the anomaly the "Big Dipper.”

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