Two years ago now, a new shark was discovered about a thousand feet below the sea off the coast of Central America. Truly, that’s a bit of an over-simplification. This shark was first found, really, back in 2010 — but ‘discovering’ something isn’t as easy as looking at a species and saying: “I don’t recognize this — it must be undiscovered!” These things take sometime, and the discovery of the elusive Ninja Laternshark took about five years.
Scientist Vicky Vásquez was the one who officially identified and named the shark. Its scientific name is Etmopterus benchleyi, and because it’s so new, there’s not much we know about the shark at all. Its identification was described from only eight specimens of the fish. We don’t know its conservation status.
Here’s what we do know about this cool shark:
1) It glows in the dark. No, really. It really does. And it’s not the only fish that does this — in fact, it’s not the only shark that does this. There’s a number of fish species that glow in the dark and use it to their advantage. You can learn more about that with this TedTalk by photographer and explorer David Gruber. David Gruber speaks specifically about biofluorescent animals in his TedTalk, however, while the Ninja Lanternshark is a bioluminescent animal. According to Vásquez, the difference is that “The Ninja Lanternshark and its relatives emit light through light producing organs, whereas biofluorescent animals absorb light and then re-emit as a different color. People can tell if an animal bioilluminates, but we cannot tell if an animal biofluoresces without help, like from a UV light.”
With the Ninja Lanternshark’s habitat being so far down in the ocean, it’s really no wonder that it has this ability. This natural ability allows it to see its surroundings better.
2) Its coloration is different from what the general public is used to seeing. Of course, when most people think of sharks, they think of the sharks like the Great White, or the Hammerhead — sharks that are grey or beige in color. The Ninja Lanternshark is a deathly-looking, coal black. That being said, it’s not the only shark to be black. Other sharks called “Lanternsharks” are also black, as well as sharks like the Pygmy sharks.
3) It appears to be relatively small, with the females being larger. Again, only eight specimens were identified, but out of those the largest male Ninja Lanternshark was only 12.8 inches in length (or 325 millimeters). The largest female came out to 20.3 inches (or 515 millimeters). However, the fact that the female of the species is larger isn’t an unusual finding. Chris Fisher of National Geographic’s “Shark Men” has stated that in ‘large ocean fish species, females are almost always bigger than males’. Vásquez says that they cannot definitively say if the male sharks are always smaller than the females for the Ninja Lanternshark, however, as they have not collected an adult male as of yet.
And while being under two feet in length may seem small, the Ninja Lanternshark is not the smallest shark known. That award goes to the Dwarf Lanternshark, coming up at a whopping 8.3 inches (or 21.2 centimeters).
Do you know more about the Ninja Lanternshark? Tweet at us this week @OfficialFemSTEM!
*This article was edited on September 16th, 2017 due to some errors as pointed out by Vicky Vásquez. Her name was misspelt, and some facts I had gotten wrong.