Marine biologists working near New Zealand’s South Island have stumbled upon a newly hatched baby ghost shark—an elusive and peculiar fish that lives in the dark deep ocean.
The hatchling, or neonate, was collected by a team of marine biologists from New Zealand’s National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research. The little critter was found at a depth of 3,940 feet (1,200 meters) on the Chatham Rise off the South Island east coast, according to a NIWA release. This discovery should tell us more about ghost sharks and how they mature into adults.
The scientists were actually taking part in a trawl survey to estimate the amount of hoki (a fish also known as blue grenadier) in the area when they accidentally discovered the ghost shark, more formally known as chimaera.
“You can tell this ghost shark recently hatched because it has a full belly of egg yolk,” Brit Finucci, a NIWA scientist who took part in the expedition, said in the release. “It’s quite astonishing. Most deep-water ghost sharks are known adult specimens; neonates are infrequently reported so we know very little about them.”
Ghost sharks are distant relatives of sharks and rays and are not technically sharks. These so-called living fossils are cartilaginous, meaning their bodies are made stiff from plates and bits of bone-like cartilage rather than bones. They live in deep waters and are rarely spotted; the first video of a ghost shark in its natural habitat wasn’t captured until 2016. An estimated 38 species of ghost shark are believed to exist around the world, but the number could be higher.
Chimaera mothers lay their eggs on the seafloor, where the embryos feed off the yolk until they’re ready to hatch, according to NIWA.
The scientists will now perform a genetic analysis to determine the species and run various physical tests. Studies of other chimaeras have shown that the dietary habits of juveniles and adults can differ, and that juveniles can look strikingly different compared to adults, including distinctive color patterns.
“Finding this ghost shark will help us better understand the biology and ecology of this mysterious group of deep-water fish,” said Finucci.