It’s scientific name is Etmopterus benchleyi, but when it’s all-black, lurks in the depths of the ocean, and has the ability to glow, why limit yourself? Researchers call this guy the “ninja lanternshark.” Learn all about it.
These sharks were hauled up from the deeps all the way back in 2010, by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. Puzzled with the animal, which seemed slightly different from all known species, researchers went to the Pacific Shark Research Center and the California Academy of Sciences. After years of examination, and comparing the specimens to known species of shark, the latter two institutions published a description of the animal today in the Journal of the Ocean Science Foundation. Diagnosis: new shark.
Lanternsharks are little-known, but relatively numerous. There are now 37 known species of lanternshark. They manage to keep a low profile because they share a small size and an affinity for deep water. They do have one flashy characteristic—they have bioluminescent patches on their sides, along the spines by their fins, and in other parts of their bodies, depending on the species. Exactly why they have these patches is unknown. The patches could help them mate, they could draw prey, they could eliminate the small shark’s “shadow” and keep it safe from predators, and they could make it easier to coordinate big groups of sharks.
Whatever the reason for the luminescence, the ninja lanternshark is less inclined than others to show off. Not only is it black, one of the characteristics that helped scientists identify it as a new species is a “lack of flank markings.” It glows less than other lanternsharks, which is what got it its name. (For those of you wondering, its scientific name is a nod to Peter Benchley, author of Jaws.) Any of you concerned about sharing the waters of the Pacific with a shark can relax. The larger specimens, the females, were only about a foot and a half long.