The newest and potentially cutest addition to humanity’s catalogue of sea creatures is the American pocket shark, a bulb-headed creature from the deepest parts of the ocean that looks like a miniature sperm whale and squirts glow-in-the-dark liquid.
North American researchers found the forearm-sized shark in the same place where sperm whales hunt off the Gulf of Mexico. They spent years verifying that it was truly a new species, and have now dubbed it Mollosquama mississippiensis in Latin.
The American pocket shark has a pocket-shaped gland that suggests it can squirt luminous liquid, according to Mark Grace, the lead researcher on the animal and an ichthyologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Grace and his team published their findings in the journal Zootaxa earlier this month.
Grace says the shark‘s luminescent liquid might conceal it from prey or other predators. It’s believed the fish lives far below the ocean’s surface where little to no light ever penetrates from above.
The American pocket shark is only the third of more than 500 known shark species to squirt glowing liquid, according to R. Dean Grubbs, a scientist at Florida State University who was not involved in studying the new species. He says the only other species are the pocket shark and the taillight shark, which produce the fluid from similar muscular glands near their tails.
“You have this tiny little bulbous luminescent shark cruising around the world’s oceans and we know nothing about them,” Grubbs told The Associated Press.
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Grace says the American pocket shark specimen was collected during a 2010 survey to find out what sperm whales eat in the Gulf of Mexico. Researchers trawled the area and depth where sperm whales normally eat and hauled up the unusual pocket shark in their nets. The specimen was approximately 14 centimetres long.
Scientists at Tulane University, the American Museum of Natural History in New York and the Florida Museum of Natural History also helped with the project. Grace’s team also enlisted the help of European researchers to scan their specimen in high resolution and dissect its cells to determine their function.
Grace says he enjoyed the wide-ranging collaboration involved in the project. “I don’t get over it,” he said. “I just remind myself this is one of the great parts of science, to have collaborations like that.”
—With files from The Associated Press