New Miniature Shark Species Glows In the Dark

In addition to being bioluminescent, the deep-sea dweller is recognisable by its exceptionally large nose.

Weighing in at only two pounds and measuring less than a foot long is one of the most unique new shark species to be recently identified by scientists.

While the shark can be easily recognised by its huge nose leading into its small body, the most defining characteristic of this species may be that it glows in the dark.

Deemed Etmopterus lailae by scientists, the shark belongs to the lanternshark family and was found nearly 1,000 feet below the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Hawaii's northwestern islands.

Stephen M. Kajiura, a professor at Florida Atlantic University, was one of the researchers who worked to identify the shark when it was discovered almost 17 years ago.

“There are only about 450 known species of sharks worldwide and you don’t come across a new species all that often. A large part of biodiversity is still unknown, so for us to stumble upon a tiny, new species of shark in a gigantic ocean is really thrilling," Kajiura said in a university press release.


Watch: Glow-in-the-dark sharks 

Identifying a new species can be so difficult that researchers did not initially realise they had found a new type of shark until they submitted their findings for journal review and received responses noting it did not easily fit into existing lanternshark classifications. To discern whether it was in fact a unique species, Kajiura and researchers from Florida International University and the University of Rhode Island took extensive measurements of the shark's teeth, vertebrae, and intestines noting consistent markings on its tale that distinguished it from other species.

They then confirmed the differences by comparing their findings with specimens in research institutions across the globe. Initial findings were published in the journal Zootaxa last February before the news was widely circulated by the corresponding researchers' institutions this month.

“The unique features and characteristics of this new species really sets it apart from the other lanternsharks,” Kajiura added in the press release.

The shark's physical characteristics evolved from its deep-sea environment. Because little light is able to penetrate the deep sea, the shark relies less on sight to find food and more on the large olfactory system housed in its unusually large snout.

Researchers have several theories for why the shark's belly is bioluminescent, ranging from ensuring the shark is mating with the right species to attracting the small fish and shrimp on which it feeds. One deep sea survey published in March suggested that as many as 75 percent of deep sea creatures may be bioluminescent. 

Despite covering more than 70 percent of Earth, much of the ocean remains yet to be explored. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimates that 95 percent of the world's oceans have not been seen by human eyes.

In June, an Australian research vessel set out on a month-long voyage to explore and take specimens from the deep seas surrounding the continent. Among their findings were a nightmarish, toothy lizard, and a 'faceless' fish.

Header Image: Etmopterus lailae is a member of the Lanternshark family, which was serendipitously found 1,000 feet below the Pacific Ocean off the coast of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. PHOTOGRAPH BY STEPHEN KAJIURA, FLORIDA ATLANTIC UNIVERSITY

Discuss this article

Newsletter

Never miss a Nat Geo moment

Your email address
Submit