‘Severed finger’ turns out to be a sea squirt

By Natsumi Penberthy 12 January 2015
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Human remains or coral? Scientists clear up confusion around ‘the finger’ and its unusual appearance.

DEBATE AROUND the origins of ‘the finger’ discovered on an NT beach in early January has been closed.

After the picture above took off in social media, speculation by the NT Police and locals covered everything from human remains to a local coral called ‘dead man’s finger‘ (alcyonium digitatum).

Found by a Darwin local on Lee Point Beach on 4 January 2015, the fleshy-looking cylinder has now been identified as a sea squirt by marine biologists at the Museum & Arts Gallery of the Northern Territory (MAGNT).

A recent report by Dr Richard Willan and Ms Suzanne Horner from MAGNT stated that: “The individual would have been living on the reef off Lee Point and it would have become dislodged during the rough weather caused by the north-westerly monsoon on, or about, January 1.”

The Top End’s monsoon season began with some torrential rain on New Year’s Eve. Darwin had received a bucketing 134mm of rain by midday on 1 January.

Sea squirt resembles dead finger

The finger-like appearance is not typical of a sea squirt carcass, which is why it aroused such interest in Darwin. The process of washing ashore, stated the MAGNT report, resulted in it losing “many of the objects that would have been encrusting its exterior, so it appears whitish externally”, much like the remains of a human finger. 

Seemingly slightly chagrined by the brouhaha, the NT police stated that they are thankful that it is not, indeed, human remains.