This very small (and adorable) shark is only the second of its kind ever discovered, and he’s showing scientists how much we still have to learn about life under the sea.
The first pocket shark find was 36 years ago off the coast of Peru. This second specimen, a 5.5 inch long juvenile, was discovered during a deep sea sperm whale expedition conducted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration some 190 miles off the coast of Louisiana. While yes, it is small enough to fit in your pocket, the tiny tiny actually get its name from a distinct pocket-like slit located just above its pectoral fin, one whose purpose researchers are still trying to understand.
An illustration of the pocket shark discovered by NOAA. Image Credit: NOAA FishWatch.gov
Biologist Mark Grace found the rare shark in the lab after the 2010 NOAA expedition was over. Realizing that this was no ordinary fish, he took it upon himself to study the specimen in detail. His new genetic analysis, which appears in the journal Zootaxa, shows that pocket sharks belong to the family Dalatiidae, and are close cousins of the kitefin and cookie cutter sharks. Members of Dalatiidae are best known for chewing an oval shaped plug of flesh from their prey—marine mammals, large fishes and squid.
So, if you surface from a deep sea diving expedition with a suspicious hole in your leg, don’t feel too bad about it. You might have just encountered the third pocket shark ever. [NOAA]
Top image via Michael Doosey, Tulane University