Scientists discover brand new species of Pocket Shark that glows in the dark

‘Exceedingly rare’ tiny species of shark with ‘glow in the dark’ pockets due to bioluminescent fluid is discovered by scientists

  • First discovered in February 2010, the animal was officially classified this week
  • Light-producing ability comes via mix of photophores and bioluminescent fluid
  • Only one other  Pocket Shark has ever been found – and that was back in 1979

A brand new species of shark with bizarre glow in the dark abilities has been discovered off the Gulf of Mexico.

The American Pocket Shark (Mollisquama mississippiensis) is only the second of its kind to be identified by marine scientists.

First discovered in February 2010, the animal was officially classified this week and is only 5.5 inches (14 centimetres) long. 

Its light-producing ability comes from a combination of photophores near its pectoral fins that produce a bioluminescent fluid.

  

Rare: The American Pocket Shark (Mollisquama mississippiensis) is only the second of its kind to be identified by marine scientists and has a unique characteristic top its predatory peers – it glows in the dark

WHAT IS A POCKET SHARK? 

Small to medium in size, the rarely-seen Mollisquama Parini is a type of kitefin shark.

They are described as having strong jaws with dagger-like upper teeth and wider blade-like teeth in the lower jaw. 

The species is found in deep waters of the Pacific Ocean. 

Most human beings who venture into the ocean won’t encounter one, however, as they reside 1,100-feet (330 meters) Deep beneath the surface.

Strangely, this type of shark has two pockets next to its front fins; their purpose is not known.

It’s not quite like a kangaroo, which uses its pouch to carry young, but few species have pockets this large – about four percent of the shark’s body.

Previously, only one previous Pocket Shark has ever been found – and that was back in 1979. 

‘In the history of fisheries science, only two pocket sharks have ever been captured or reported. Both are separate species, each from separate oceans. Both are exceedingly rare,’ said National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration fisheries biologist Mark Grace. 

He has spent more than 30 years studying the ultra-rare creatures. 

Previous discovery: Only one other Pocket Shark has ever been found - and that was back in 1979 off the coast of Chile. It was caught during a 2010 government research trip.

Previous discovery: Only one other Pocket Shark has ever been found – and that was back in 1979 off the coast of Chile. It was caught during a 2010 government research trip.

Found off the coast of Chile in the Nazca Submarine Range, it was formally categorised in in 1984.

The tiny nipper – measuring just 5.5 inches long – was caught during a 2010 government research trip and its body remained frozen while biologists went about identifying it. 

Henry Bart, director of the Tulane Biodiversity Research Institute, said in a statement: ‘The fact that only one pocket shark has ever been reported from the Gulf of Mexico, and that it is a new species, underscores how little we know about the Gulf – especially its deeper waters – and how many additional new species from these waters await discovery.’ 

The findings were published in the Biotaxa Zootaxa journal.  

WHAT IS BIOLUMINESCENCE?

Bioluminescence is the production or emission of light by a living creature which can cause an incredible glow from the sea. 

The phenomenon is a result of a chemical reaction that occurs when chemical energy is converted to light energy. For this to happen the creature must carry a molecule called luciferin.

When luciferin reacts with oxygen it creates light energy which we perceive as a glow.

Bright: Photographer Tom Bow said: 'It's been spotted at different locations along the South Wales coast in the past week although it's slightly unpredictable'

Bright: Photographer Tom Bow said: ‘It’s been spotted at different locations along the South Wales coast in the past week although it’s slightly unpredictable’

While only a few land creatures, such as fire flies, can create their own light, about ninety percent of deep-sea marine life can produce bioluminescence – often the light they emit is blue or green, so it can transmit through seawater easily. However, some emit red and infrared light in order to hunt in almost pitch black deep seas.

Sea sparkle – or –  Noctiluca scintillans – usually occurs in hotter climates but the UK heatwave means it has been seen on the Welsh coast.

The warm weather has caused a rapid increase in the rate in which plankton grows and reproduces. Once there are more than 100,000 algae cells in just a litre of water (which usually only occurs when it’s very hot and dry) the plankton ‘charge up’ and create a glow.

This only happens when it gets dark, during the day the plankton usually appears as a rusty-brown colour.   

Natural phenomenon: Bioluminescence is the production and emission of light by a living organism. The light is created through a complex chemical reaction

Natural phenomenon: Bioluminescence is the production and emission of light by a living organism. The light is created through a complex chemical reaction


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