Any good pulp-fiction villain has an alias or two, in order to throw police off the trail. Let's hope the breadcrumb sponge never turns to crime. It has 56.

That's just one of the curiosities that has emerged from an international effort to catalog all living things in the ocean.

To date, scientists working on the World Register of Marine Species (


) have found 31,366 species with at least two names, and 767 with 10 or more, says Rutgers biologist Edward Vanden Berghe.

Tidying up the list (and adding the new fish, plants and other organisms as they are discovered) is critical. With many ocean species in decline, it is hard to keep track without agreeing on their names.

"Before, it was as if we were all trying to speak the same language, but we didn't have a dictionary," says Vanden Berghe, one of the effort's leaders.

Extra names can arise from disagreements over where to draw the line between species, or simply from ignorance. About 1,400 "new" marine species are reported each year in various, sometimes obscure, publications.

The register contains verified names for about 122,500 marine species so far - more than half of the estimated 230,000 known species of the sea. It is believed that three times that many remain unknown.

The species with the most extra names has been called

Alcyonium manusdiaboli . . .


Spongia compacta . . .


Trachyopsilla glaberrima.

No more. Now scientists must use

Halichondria panicea


The rest of us can still say breadcrumb sponge.

- Tom Avril