A tiny new species of deepwater shark has been identified by researchers, and it lives at depths below 300 meters (1,000 feet) off the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. The animal has been given the formal name Etmopterus lailae and it’s a species of lanternshark.
The new discovery, reported in the journal Zootaxa, weighs less than 900 grams (two pounds) and is capable of glowing in the dark, a common feature of lanternsharks. Although scientists are unsure if its purpose, suggestions have been proposed, such as camouflage, use as a lure for prey, or as a way for mates to recognize them, like an underwater peacock tail.
"There are only about 450 known species of sharks worldwide and you don't come across a new species all that often," co-author Professor Stephen Kajiura, from Florida Atlantic University, said in a statement. "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. This species is very understudied because of its size and the fact that it lives in very deep water. They are not easily visible or accessible like so many other sharks."
This new shark was first discovered 17 years ago. When the specimen was first presented in a paper, one of the reviewers suggested that the specimen might belong to a different species. The researchers had to provide precise measurements of the lanternshark and painstakingly compared it to specimens housed in other museums.
"The unique features and characteristics of this new species really sets it apart from the other Lanternsharks," said Kajiura. "For one thing, it has a strange head shape and an unusually large and bulgy snout where its nostrils and olfactory organs are located. These creatures are living in a deep sea environment with almost no light, so they need to have a big sniffer to find food."
The specimen has also got ventral flank marks going forward and backward. Apart from housing these marks, their bellies have bioluminescent flanks, which allow them to glow. Compared to other species of lanternsharks, they don't have scales under their long snout, they have fewer teeth, and a different number of vertebrae.
Scientists are yet to observe a living example of this new species of shark, but the discovery tells us that there’s a huge variety of life that we are yet to discover in Earth’s oceans.