Natural Wonders

Swimmer finds porcupine fish bladder on Kiama, NSW, beach

Donna Reardon was about to head home from a beach near Wollongong on Sunday when a “gross” object caught her eye.

A woman’s visit to the beach took an odd turn after she encountered an object strikingly similar to the hoof of a horse or donkey on the sand.

Donna Reardon was emerging from a dip at Bombo Beach in Kiama, south of Wollongong, on Sunday when something out of the ordinary caught her eye.

It was the shape of a fortune cookie with a firm jelly-like texture all over, with some parts squishing under pressure.

Eager to determine what the strange item was, she shared a few photos of her discovery to the local community group on Facebook.

“Hi everyone, just went for a swim down at Bombo Beach and found this. Anyone have any idea?” she wrote.

In one photo, she had placed the object next to a regular tablespoon to give an idea of its size.

It wasn’t long before the suggestions began flooding in, some far more realistic than others.

“That’s poop from a butt,” one person joked, with several others saying they too saw it down at the beach, but decided to leave it there.

“Saw it yesterday – very strange. It was quite hard,” someone wrote, with another suggesting it was “maybe some sort of marine egg”.

Someone else thought it could be a big piece of seaweed, and another joked that it looked like a pair of “petrified chicken breast fillets”.

A few people seemed confident the item was some hardened “shark poo”, while another said it looked like the tooth of a “very large person”.

Mrs Reardon received some legitimate explanations for what it was though and eventually the mystery was solved.

“It’s a swim bladder from a porcupinefish,” she told

After some investigation on the Australian Museum website, she identified a photo that looked exactly like what she had found.

“It’s actually quite big. I wouldn’t like to see the porcupine fish it was in,” she said.

The bladder’s purpose is to control the buoyancy of the fish, also known as a blow fish, and in some species is important for hearing, according to the museum.

It isn’t permeable to gases due to having few blood vessels, and is lined with sheets of guanine crystals.

Mrs Reardon has contacted the museum for confirmation of her speculation, and in the meantime said she is working on convincing her husband to let her keep it.

“I don’t know what I will do with it. If my hubby gets his way it will go in the bin,” she said, adding that even though the bladder didn’t smell, he was “grossed out” by it.

It was one of only a few porcupinefish gas bladders brought to the museum’s attention in the past 20 years.

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