Mucus Mansions & Pooping Plastic What the the world can be done about the plastic junking up our oceans? How in the world can a tiny pooping sea creature help to solve the problem? And how in the world can you get a good deal on a four-story "Mucus Mansion?" (Hint: You can't. But we'll tell you what it is!) Join Guy and Mindy for a wild underwater adventure to the depths of the deep blue sea, as they uncover the plastic-pooping truth of the Who, What, When, Where, Why, How, and WOW in the World of the Giant Larvacean!
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Mucus Mansions & Pooping Plastic

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Mucus Mansions & Pooping Plastic

Mucus Mansions & Pooping Plastic

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(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE GOLDEN AGE (WOW IN THE WORLD PODCAST THEME SONG)")

THE POP UPS: Full speed in three, two, one - ignition. Get ready for an adventure of magnificent proportions. (Singing) I

don't know what you've been told, but we're in a golden age. So many discoveries that are jumping off the page. Wow in the world. Wow in the world. Wow in the world. Wow in the world. Wow in the world. Wow in the world. Wow in the world. Wow in the world. Wow in the world with Guy and Mindy.

(SOUNDBITE OF WHISTLING, PHONE RINGING)

MINDY THOMAS, HOST:

Oh. Oh. Where's my phone? Oh. Hey, Guy Raz.

GUY RAZ, HOST:

Mindy, what's all that clattering going on over there? Don't you know it's the middle of the night?

THOMAS: Oh, yeah. I've been building a submarine. You should come over here and see this thing.

RAZ: Mindy, I'm trying to get some sleep over here.

THOMAS: I took apart your car to build the frame.

RAZ: You what?

THE POP UPS: Don't worry. I'll put it back together again, but not before I test this baby out on the depths of the deep blue sea.

RAZ: Well, if you're planning to sail my car into the middle of the ocean, then I guess I'm going with you.

THE POP UPS: Yes. Well, technically it was your car. Now it's parts of a submarine.

RAZ: Hang on a second, Mindy. I'll be right over.

THOMAS: All right, just got to work out a few more kinks and this baby will be ready to ride. Hey, Reggie, will you hold this combustion valve with your beak while I hammer it on here and - there we go. You're a good bird, Reg.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOORBELL)

THOMAS: Oh, Guy Raz is here. Here, hold this wrench, Reggie. Oh, wait. I keep forgetting you don't have hands.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOORBELL, FOOTSTEPS)

THOMAS: Good mordle (ph) of the night, Guy Raz.

RAZ: Mindy.

THOMAS: Wow. You walked all the way over here wearing a sleep mask over your eyes?

RAZ: I thought I'd keep it on just in case this was really just a nightmare.

THOMAS: Speaking of nightmares, come back here and check out this dreamboat - just finished building it.

RAZ: Whoa.

THOMAS: Guy Raz, feast your eyes on the jello submarine.

RAZ: I think you mean yellow submarine.

THOMAS: No, that name was already taken by some band from Liverpool, England.

RAZ: You really did build a submarine, Mindy.

THOMAS: Isn't she a beauty? Oops. I can glue that back on.

RAZ: Hey, is that the windshield of my car? And look. My emergency brake - is that the door to my trunk?

THOMAS: Yeah and your vacuum cleaner and your weed whacker and your telescope and your...

RAZ: Mindy, if this thing wasn't so amazing, I would be freaking out on you right now for taking apart all of my stuff.

THOMAS: Oh, don't worry. There will be plenty of opportunity for you to freak out, Guy Raz. But for now, we need to get this thing up and running so we can make it to the ocean before the morning rush hour. I hear it's been crazy ever since the schools of fish went back in session.

RAZ: Oh, yeah. I get that one - schools of fish.

THOMAS: So you just take the socket wrench and make one final adjustment - there. I think we're ready to go.

RAZ: Mindy, this thing is huge. How are we going to get it to the ocean?

THOMAS: Oh, I don't have a plan for that.

RAZ: Well, it was a nice try. I guess I'm just going to go back to bed.

THOMAS: What?

RAZ: But please, just make sure you have my car put back all together by the morning, OK?

THOMAS: Wait. I got it. We can just take the tires off your car, slap them on the submarine and then drive it to the ocean.

RAZ: Mindy, please.

THOMAS: Hey, Reggie. Hand me the socket wrench.

RAZ: Those are brand new tires.

THOMAS: Electric screwdriver. Thank you. Spud wrench. Give me a hammer and an axe. There, that'll do it. Ready to hop in?

RAZ: No.

THOMAS: Come on. This is an adventure for science.

RAZ: I'm starting to rethink this anything-for-science thing.

THOMAS: OK, now to turn this baby on...

RAZ: Do you have submarine keys?

THOMAS: Sure do, just hand me that rusty coat hanger over there.

RAZ: Mindy, this will not work.

THOMAS: Here we go - to the ocean. (Laughter) Woo. Here we go.

(SOUNDBITE OF HARP)

THOMAS: Nothing like riding a homemade submarine on the open road in the middle of the night.

(SOUNDBITE OF SNORING)

THOMAS: Guy Raz? Guy Raz? Guy Raz, wake up.

RAZ: No, you're a two-headed space worm.

THOMAS: Guy Raz. Wake up. I need you to help me navigate our way to the ocean. I think we made a wrong turn.

RAZ: Oh. Oh. Where are we?

THOMAS: Kansas.

RAZ: What?

THOMAS: Don't worry. I know we're far away, but this will give us plenty of time to work out the details of our mission.

RAZ: Our mission, right. I can't believe I haven't even considered the most important question in all of this, Mindy, which is, why are we driving a submarine in the middle of Kansas if we're looking for the ocean?

THOMAS: I think the most important question is actually, did you bring snacks, Mindy? And the answer to that is only this brine shrimp cocktail.

RAZ: What?

THOMAS: I want to see if eating it will turn our hair pink.

RAZ: Mindy, what is this all about?

THOMAS: OK. Well, it's kind of a long story, but according to the GPS, we've got plenty of time on our hands, so.

AUTOMATED VOICE: You are never going to get there.

RAZ: Wait. Did your GPS just say that?

THOMAS: Just sit back and enjoy the pitch black scenery and I'll tell you everything you need to know, Guy Raz. So you know how plastic in the ocean is becoming a big problem, right?

RAZ: Yeah. All of that plastic waste like grocery bags and plastic bottles are really dangerous to animals that depend on oceans for their food.

THOMAS: Yeah. So to a sea turtle, a plastic bag in the ocean might look like a tasty jellyfish.

RAZ: Yeah.

THOMAS: And little plastic pellets might look like yummy fish eggs to sea birds.

RAZ: And I just read, Mindy, that every year, we humans toss eight 8 metric tons of plastic into the ocean.

THOMAS: Which, by my calculations, is about a dump trucks' worth of plastic every single minute.

RAZ: That's a lot of plastic.

THOMAS: Right?

RAZ: And I know that as some of that plastic floats up to the surface of the ocean, it can wash up onto the beaches.

THOMAS: Exacdoritos (ph). And that's just the stuff that you see. But what you don't see is all of the plastic that sinks down to the bottom of the ocean.

RAZ: Wait. Wait a minute. Did you attach my vacuum cleaner to your submarine because you wanted to go suck up all of the plastic at the bottom of the ocean?

THOMAS: What? No. I attached your vacuum cleaner because it had a cool motor sound and can power my submarine.

RAZ: OK.

THOMAS: Anyhow, with all of that plastic floating on the ocean waters and beaches, eventually, the waves and then sun start to break down those plastics into teeny tiny microscopic plastic particles.

RAZ: Which means you can't see them.

THOMAS: But they're still there.

RAZ: And I suppose that even microscopic pieces of plastic are still dangerous for fish and other sea creatures who might accidentally eat it.

THOMAS: You bet your black bean burritos, Guy Raz.

RAZ: So, Mindy, do you know if any scientists have ideas for a mass ocean cleanup?

THOMAS: Yeah. Wait. Where are we?

RAZ: Well, we're still in the middle of the country. Just keep driving west, and eventually, we'll get to the ocean.

THOMAS: Oh, man. I better step on the gas.

RAZ: Say, did you put a license plate on this thing?

THOMAS: License plates are for road vehicles, Guy Raz. This is a submarine. OK, now back to the ocean cleanup.

RAZ: Oh, of course. So what can we humans do about this problem?

THOMAS: Well, first of all, we humans can be sure to properly recycle all of our plastic garbage...

RAZ: Yeah.

THOMAS: ...And stop throwing all of our trash all over the place.

RAZ: But what about the mess we've already created?

THOMAS: Well, this is where it gets interesting.

RAZ: Yeah?

THOMAS: So once we get to the ocean, we're going to begin this mission expedition by taking this submarine down, down, down to the depths of the deepest deep of the deep blue.

RAZ: Yeah. Yeah, I get it.

THOMAS: And we are going to meet the answer to your question face to face, although I don't think the answer really has a face, so.

RAZ: Mindy, are you talking about talking about?

THOMAS: I'm talking about this little blob-like jelly looking filter feeder called the giant larvacean.

RAZ: How giant is she?

THOMAS: Oh, she's only about the size of your pinky finger, but she has a mucus mansion.

RAZ: Is that where we're supposed to be staying?

THOMAS: Ew. No, that's where she keeps all of her mucus and tiny bits of plastic she collects.

RAZ: Thank goodness. Wait. She is the answer to the ocean's plastic problem?

THOMAS: Well, she could be. So this team of researchers at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in California have been studying these giant larvaceans.

RAZ: But why?

THOMAS: Well, they're trying to figure out how they might be part of the way pollution cycles through the ocean.

RAZ: Wow.

THOMAS: Are we there yet?

RAZ: Wait. Did the GPS just ask that?

THOMAS: Oh, yeah. I'll respond. Yeah, so I think we're getting close. I can smell the salt water in the air.

RAZ: Shouldn't we be asking you that question?

THOMAS: Maybe she needs a snack.

RAZ: What?

THOMAS: So before we get there, let me tell you more about this giant larvacean.

RAZ: Oh, right. So, Mindy, you mentioned she's a filter feeder. So water passes through her body, but her body has filters that can catch food in the water. So it's kind of like when you pour spaghetti into a colander, the water drains out but the spaghetti stays in.

THOMAS: You got it, Guy Raz. And filter feeders come in all different shapes and sizes. So pyrosomes or sea pickles are filter feeders. And flamingos are filter feeders. And even some sharks and whales are filter feeders.

RAZ: Yeah.

THOMAS: And when the giant larvacean filters her lunch, these researchers found out that she's also eating tiny bits of plastic.

RAZ: Wow, so not a very picky eater.

THOMAS: Nope, not at all.

RAZ: Well, then what happens to the plastic once she eats all of it?

THOMAS: Well, Guy Raz, we're about to find out.

RAZ: What?

THOMAS: Look out the window.

RAZ: The ocean, the ocean - we made it. We survived driving cross-country in this rickety homemade submarine.

THOMAS: And we only lost one tire.

RAZ: No, not my new tire.

THOMAS: Come on. Let's get out of this thing so we can pop off the other three and push this baby into the water once and for all.

RAZ: Are you sure about this?

THOMAS: No, of course I'm not sure about this. Now come on. Here, give me a hand.

(SOUNDBITE OF GRUNTING)

THOMAS: There. Got it. Now on count of three, we're going to push this submarine into the ocean. OK?

RAZ: But shouldn't we be in it when it goes in?

THOMAS: Oh, well - I know. I'll hop in and then you push it into the ocean.

RAZ: But what about...

THOMAS: You can just dive in and swim to catch up. See you in a sec.

RAZ: But you can't open a submarine door in the ocean.

THOMAS: Wait. I just realized something. You can't open a submarine door in the ocean. Come on. Get in.

RAZ: OK. Now what?

THOMAS: Rocket boosters.

RAZ: But this is a submarine, Mindy.

THOMAS: Rocket boosters activate.

RAZ: Why did I let you rope me into this, Mindy?

THOMAS: Anything for science, Guy Raz. Woo.

RAZ: I think we made it to the deepest depths of the ocean, Mindy.

THOMAS: To be sure, let's look through the underwater periscopes I installed.

RAZ: Wait. Wait. Did you install a periscope for each of us?

THOMAS: Of course I did. When you make things yourself, there are no limits.

RAZ: Yeah.

THOMAS: Plus, you had two mufflers on your car.

RAZ: Whoa.

THOMAS: Looks like we made it. It's like a whole other world down here. Oh, look. I think I spot a giant larvacean.

RAZ: That tiny translucent blob that sort of looks like a miniature jellyfish slinky?

THOMAS: Yep, that's her. Isn't she beautiful?

RAZ: Yeah. Beauty really does come in all shapes and sizes. Hey, what is she doing, Mindy? It looks like she's spinning a big three-dimensional snot bubble.

THOMAS: Oh, so that's her mucus mansion.

RAZ: Mindy.

THOMAS: I'm not making this up, Guy Raz. Her mucus mansion is a kind of net that acts as her gut or her stomach. And, well, just watch what she does with it.

RAZ: OK.

THOMAS: Oh, and put on these sound-magnifying headphones so you can hear.

RAZ: OK. She's gently but swiftly sifting through the water...

THOMAS: Yeah.

RAZ: ...And filtering out her tiny seafood nuggets. Wow. That stuff is tiny, smaller than a grain of sand.

THOMAS: Good eye.

RAZ: And she's holding it in her...

THOMAS: Say mucus mansion.

RAZ: ...Net.

THOMAS: Yeah. So that's how she eats. Isn't it cool?

RAZ: So her stomach floats around outside of her body?

THOMAS: Well, it's attached by a long cord, but yeah, basically. And she can sift through something like 80 liters of water in an hour.

RAZ: That's like more than 300 cups of water.

THOMAS: I know, a lot of water, right? She doesn't mess around.

RAZ: Oh, no.

THOMAS: What?

RAZ: Well, when I zoom in with my periscope here, it appears that she's also eating teeny tiny microscopic bits of plastic just like you were saying, Mindy. I mean, is this dangerous for her? I mean, should we break into her mucus mansion and get all that stuff out of there?

THOMAS: Well, according to the researchers, it doesn't seem to be a big problem for her.

RAZ: But it is for other sea life.

THOMAS: Oh, yeah - dolphinately (ph).

RAZ: So what happens to the tiny plastic that she eats?

THOMAS: Well, that was one of the big questions that these researchers wanted to find the answer to.

RAZ: And how did they do it?

THOMAS: Well, after watching the giant larvacean very closely in the ocean and studying the inside of her mucus mansion from the outside, they took her back to the lab, put her in a fish tank and waited for her to, you know...

RAZ: Waited for her to what?

THOMAS: ...To...

RAZ: To what?

THOMAS: ...To...

RAZ: To what, Mindy?

THOMAS: OK. They waited for her to poop. They waited for her to poop, Guy Raz. I mean, can you just imagine...

RAZ: Well...

THOMAS: ...Everybody standing around you just waiting for the moment your granola bar pops out the other end?

RAZ: And then I suppose clapping and cheering once it did?

THOMAS: Hey, come to think of it, that doesn't sound so bad.

RAZ: Don't get any ideas, Mindy.

THOMAS: So, as I was saying, the researchers stood around waiting for her....

RAZ: You really don't need to say it again.

THOMAS: Oh, it's no problem. The researchers waited for the giant larvacean to poop because they wanted to see what happened to the plastics.

RAZ: And what did they find?

THOMAS: Well, they found that she pooped them out. And those tiny poop pellets containing the plastic sank to the bottom of the ocean.

RAZ: So they were no longer floating around waiting to be eaten by other fish.

THOMAS: Exacdoritos, Guy Raz. The bottom of the ocean is just one big plastic poop farm.

RAZ: Well, I don't know if I'd go that far, Mindy.

THOMAS: I would.

RAZ: But what about sea creatures who eat giant larvaceans? I mean, these are giant larvaceans holding plastic in their mucus mansion guts.

THOMAS: OK, so that's the bad news. There are predators who eat giant larvaceans. If you ask me, no one should be eating their neighbors anyway, so I think that they get whatever they desire.

RAZ: That's one way of interpreting it. But do these researchers, Mindy, think that these giant larvaceans and their, you know, their plastic poop pellets could actually help save the lives of other sea creatures in the ocean?

THOMAS: Well, that's one hope. Some bioengineers have floated the idea of deploying huge numbers of giant larvaceans into the oceans just to take care of this problem.

RAZ: That would be a great idea.

THOMAS: Maybe so, but it wouldn't solve the problem of the massive amounts of plastic floating to the surface of the oceans and beaches.

RAZ: Well, is anything being done about that?

THOMAS: Oh, yeah. Scientists are coming up with all sorts of ideas, everything from providing more waste collection and recycling facilities in parts of the world that need them the most.

RAZ: And in the spirit of biomimicry or creating technology based on something in nature, I wonder if anyone out there is thinking up, like, an ocean-cleaning invention based on the giant larvacean?

THOMAS: Well, funny you should mention it, Guy Raz, because this same team of researchers from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute are thinking about the possibility of a futuristic plastic-eating vacuum cleaner based off their favorite little plastic-pooping underwater friend.

RAZ: Hey, Mindy?

THOMAS: Yeah, Guy Raz?

RAZ: We've been traveling half the night. You didn't happen to install a bathroom in this submarine, did you?

THOMAS: Oh, of course I did. In fact, I took the one out of your house while you were sleeping.

RAZ: You what?

THOMAS: Right over there, got a door and everything. You should feel right at home.

RAZ: Mindy, technically, that is my - oh, never mind.

THOMAS: Go ahead. You do your business while I continue to study the mucus mansions through my periscope.

RAZ: OK.

THOMAS: Hope everything comes out OK.

RAZ: Please, please don't talk about it.

THOMAS: I'll cheer for you when you're done.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: WOW IN THE WORLD will be right back. Grown-ups, this message is for you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: That's it. Back to the show.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE GOLDEN AGE (WOW IN THE WORLD PODCAST THEME SONG)")

THE POP UPS: (Singing) Wow in the world.

(SOUNDBITE OF PHONE DIALING)

THOMAS: Hi. Thanks for calling WOW IN THE WORLD. After the beep, get ready to record.

(SOUNDBITE OF BEEP)

ANDREA: Hello, Guy Raz and Mindy. My name's Andrea (ph). I'm 10 years old, and I live in Amman, Jordan. My WOW IN THE WORLD is that I once pet kangaroos.

(SOUNDBITE OF BEEP)

HAILIE: Hello, Mindy and Guy Raz. My name is Hailie (ph). I'm 5 years old. And I live in Manhattan Beach, Calif. My WOW IN THE WORLD is that Elon Musk, the founder of Space-X, launched a rocket into space and landed back where it started from. And I love your show, Mindy and Guy Raz.

(SOUNDBITE OF BEEP)

COLIN: Hi. My name is Colin (ph) and I live in Chicago, Ill. And my WOW IN THE WORLD is that honey is bee vomit.

(SOUNDBITE OF BEEP)

NOAH: Hi. I'm Noah (ph) from Vista, Calif. My WOW IN THE WORLD is that I have a clear toy that is filled with bioluminescent algae called dinoflagellates. They charge up during the day using photosynthesis, and then they glow at night when you shake them.

(SOUNDBITE OF BEEP)

KATE: Hi. My name is Kate (ph). I'm 8 years old. And my WOW is that there is so many things in our world. And the world is only a little bit of our universe. So it's like the world is huge to us but it's not huge to the universe. So, like, animals and us and trees and houses can fit on - in the world, but in the universe, Earth is just one of the planets - like a dot in space. Thanks, Mindy. Thanks, Guy Raz. I really like your show. Bye.

(SOUNDBITE OF BEEP)

EVAN: Hey, WOW IN THE WORLD. My name is Evan (ph). My WOW IN THE WORLD is geysers. Oh, and I'm 7 years old. Deep underground there's magma. It heats up water. The water goes up and it goes through a little tube. The water goes up, but when it explodes, it goes everywhere. I love your show, and I'm just like you, Mindy. Bye.

(SOUNDBITE OF BEEP)

SUZANNE: Hi. I'm Suzanne (ph). And I'm 5 years old. And my WOW IN THE WORLD is that dogs never sweat.

(SOUNDBITE OF BEEP)

AUTOMATED VOICE: End of messages.

THOMAS: Hey, guys. Thank you so much for checking out this Thursday edition of WOW IN THE WORLD. Grown-ups, to keep the conversation going, we've posted some fun questions on our website, wowintheworld.com. And we love hearing from you. Grown-ups, you can find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @wowintheworld. And our email address hello@wowintheworld.com. Today's show was produced by Michelle Darling (ph), standing in for Jed Anderson. Say hello, Michelle.

MICHELLE DARLING, BYLINE: Hello.

THOMAS: Our theme song is written and performed by The Pop Ups. You can find more of their awesome music at thepopups.com. Special thanks to Meredith Halpern-Ranzer, Jessica Body (ph), Chelsea Ersin (ph) and Alex Hurley for helping to make this show possible. Finally, we've loved hearing what's been wowing you. Thanks so much for sending in your voicemails. We listen to each and every one of them.

For a chance to be featured on an upcoming episode, have your grown-ups help you share something that's recently wowed you by dialing 1-888-7WOW-WOW. Thanks again for subscribing and telling your friends about our show. We'll be back on Monday with a brand new episode. Until then, go forth and find your own WOW IN THE WORLD.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE GOLDEN AGE (WOW IN THE WORLD PODCAST THEME SONG)")

THE POP UPS: (Singing) Wow in the world. Wow in the world. Wow in the world. Wow in the world. Wow in the world. Wow in the world.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: WOW IN THE WORLD was made by Tinkercast and sent to you by NPR.

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