8 ways SpongeBob lied to us about the ocean

Celebrating two decades of nautical nonsense

29th April 2019

Who lives in a pineapple under the sea? Right, SpongeBob SquarePants.

You might think a talking kitchen sponge who lives underwater, goes on adventures with his marine friends, and resides in a city called Bikini Bottom could not possibly be an educational TV show… and you’d be mostly right.

Though SpongeBob’s creator Stephen Hillenburg was a marine biologist and science teacher, there’s not a huge amount of, y’know, reality in the show.

We know, logically, you cannot light a fire underwater, nor meet a very accomplished diving squirrel intent on exploring the seabed, who lives in an airtight dome with a tree in it. At least not in this century.

We spent 20 years overlooking these details, so perhaps now’s the time to review what two decades of nautical nonsense taught us about the ocean. It turns out not very much.

1. That’s not what a sea sponge looks like

His parents are more accurate… Maybe he’s a mutant 📸 Nickelodeon

Starting with the protagonist himself, SpongeBob takes the form of a kitchen sponge despite his sea sponge parentage. This has been a discussion point in the fan community ever since the first episode was aired on Nickelodeon on 1 May 1999.

Sea sponges have a round, much more fluffy shape, unlike the artificial, rectangular structure of a kitchen sponge (and our hero). On top of that, SpongeBob is very active, driving cars, jellyfish-fishing and riding seahorses, which we’re pretty sure sea sponges don’t do. We’re not sure of the science on this one, but we definitely don’t want to watch a show about our kitchen sponge, which tends to sit beside the sink and occasionally do dishes.

While SpongeBob’s DNA is still not discernible, there is now an official SpongeBob organism. A newly-discovered mushroom shaped like a sea sponge was named after him in 2011, Spongiforma squarepantsii.

It looks nothing like him.

2. He should be dead by now

He was 13 when the first episode aired 📸 Nickelodeon

According to SpongeBob’s driving licence, he was born on 14 July 1986. Today, he would be 32, and yet sea sponges only live up to 20 years.

In the episode I Had an Accident, SpongeBob mentions that he can filter feed to stay alive, which is in fact what sea sponges do, absorbing nutrients through their pores. We can only presume his long life is an advantage of his sea sponge parentage, combined with his kitchen sponge form.

3. He shouldn’t be a man

He’s not a man, he’s a sponge  📸 Nickelodeon

SpongeBob’s shorts, shirt and necktie are traditionally men’s attire. Combining this with the fact he’s voiced by a man and referred to as “he”, we can safely say SpongeBob is a man. However, he should be a hermaphrodite — sponges produce both sperm and eggs and can work as either the male or female in reproduction.

4. Squidward’s legs are all wrong

Eww 📸 Nickelodeon

Squidward, SpongeBob’s eccentric neighbour, co-worker and friend (maybe), is said to be an octopus by Stephen Hillenburg, but he only possesses six limbs, two arms and four legs. An octopus has eight limbs, and a squid 10. Still, octopuses have eccentric characteristics, have devious hunting strategies and are extremely clever, just like Squidward, and Hillenberg has said Squidward is indeed an octopus, but, “It was really just simpler for animation to just draw him with six legs instead of eight.”

5. Patrick would not survive under a rock

SpongeBob’s best friend, an outstandingly stupid starfish called Patrick, definitely has the right shape and also has a rock as his home, which is not too far from the truth. Patrick could not live under a rock, as the pressure would destroy his appendages, but starfish do usually live on top of rocks or nearby them. His stupidity could also be representative of the fact that sea stars do not have a centralised brain that controls their nervous system.

6. Plankton is too big

Plankton is based on an actual plankton called a copepod, which has one red eye and two antennae, just like Plankton. He is zooplankton (animal plankton) that eats phytoplankton (plant plankton), hence his green skin colour. In the early episodes, the show’s animators were actually too realistic with Plankton, making him so small he could only be seen with a magnifying glass. Later, he was enlarged so he could physically interact with the others.

7. Bikini Bottom should be real

Nuclear radiation would explain so much and yet… nope 📸 Nickelodeon

Bikini Bottom is set at Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands, the site of many nuclear tests in the 1940s and 1950s. The fan theory that SpongeBob and his friends could have been a result of nuclear radiation was rejected by creator Stephen Hillenburg in an interview, who said that it should just be taken as an unrelated world in itself.

8. Even dolphins don’t laugh

SpongeBob’s laugh, which either lifted our mood or made us want to remove our ears, is based on a dolphin’s call with a touch of a seagull’s shriek. Whales and dolphins usually use clicks or short pulses of sounds to detect objects underwater by echolocation. Obviously, sponges don’t laugh, but when dolphins and seagulls make that noise they’re not laughing either, they’re looking for food or talking to each other. It sounds like a laugh, but it’s just not.

SpongeBob SquarePants definitely has more biological and scientific wrongs than rights, so it’s just as well David Attenborough made Blue Planet. Still, SpongeBob has some facts buried away in the fictional world of Bikini Bottom. Some concepts line up with their real-life counterparts, and many episodes contain nuggets of truth that urge us to research more, or fun in-jokes for scientists to pick apart.

And yeah. okay, it’s just a cartoon after all.

29th April 2019