Scientists recently discovered a new species of shark present in the Gulf of Mexico. While explorers are constantly coming across new and unknown species in the animal and plant kingdoms, what makes this find especially interesting is that this shark secretes a bioluminescent fluid in order to attract its prey. Bioluminescent is a scientific term for glow in the dark.
The shark is known by its scientific name Mollisquama mississippiensis or American Pocket Shark. It was first observed in the gulf in 2010 while scientists observed sperm whales feeding and was published in a Tulane University study in the animal taxonomy journal.
Mark Grace of the National Marine Fisheries Service Mississippi Laboratories of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported he noticed the shark’s special ability during an examination of the collected specimen in 2013 for a NOAA survey. The small shark, a subspecies of the ketefin shark measuring just five and a half inches, releases clouds of glowing colors from strange pouches near its gills.
Grace also noted that the only known specimen like it so far was captured in the eastern Pacific Ocean in 1979 and is kept in the Zoological Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, although both are different species from separate oceans.
A Rare Find
Henry Bart, director of the Tulane Biodiversity Research Institute, has said that this one of a kind discovery proves just how little we know about the biodiversity in the Gulf of Mexico. Grace claims both known species of bioluminescent sharks are “exceedingly rare”. Marked differences include fewer vertebrae as well as photophores (a light-producing organ in fish and other animals) covering large portions of the pocket shark’s body. However, both species have two small holes which produce a luminous fluid, one on either side of the gills.
As reported by Live Science, other bioluminescent, or glow-in-the-dark, sharks include Scyliorhinus rotifer, a chain catshark, and the swell shark, which is said to twinkle. The new species of shark from the Gulf of Mexico will join the ranks of the other one hundred eighty species of light emitting fish reported by Wired magazine. As stated in the article, scientists believe some species use biofluorescence to communicate with one and other while remaining hidden from predators.
The light emitted by bioluminescent fish is unable to be seen by the naked eye. Scientists are able to capture images of glowing fish by using a special type of photography using blue lights and cameras with yellow filters which block the blue light and capture the glow.
Other Amazing Discoveries
Other amazing discoveries in the Gulf of Mexico include a giant squid spotted and recorded on video by the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration recently. The giant cephalopod was seen about one hundred miles southeast off the coast of New Orleans, Louisiana. In 2014 BOEM, The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, along with NOAA, released a two-volume report listing and showing images of one hundred seven new species discovered along the ocean floor in the Gulf of Mexico including twenty-four undescribed species which do not fit into any genera.
What wonders lie in the vast depths of the world’s seas is perhaps as mysterious as what we have yet to discover in the vastness of deep space. As exploration and imaging technology advances, we are sure to uncover mysteries and learn of new worlds with new life.