A rare days-old ghost shark, an ethereal-looking relative of sharks and rays that is rare to find free-swimming in the ocean, has been discovered by scientists from the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) in New Zealand.
Found in the deep ocean, even sightings of the ghost shark are uncommon – so the collection of a neonate is of massive scientific value in the research of these extraordinary creatures.
The ghost shark begins its life deep on the ocean floor in a capsule, where it feeds off egg yolk until it hatches. This specimen was found 1,200 meters (4,000 feet) below sea level at Chatham Rise, a productive fishing area located off the coast of New Zealand’s South Island.
“You can tell this ghost shark recently hatched because it has a full belly of egg yolk. It’s quite astonishing. Most deep-water ghost sharks are known adult specimens; neonates are infrequently reported so we know very little about them,” said Dr Brit Finucci, Scientist at NIWA Fisheries, in a statement.
Ghost sharks, more technically known as chimaeras, are cartilaginous fish that live in temperate oceans between the depths of 200 m (660 ft) and 2,600 m (8,500 ft) and grow up to 2 m (6.56 ft) in length.
Known for their rarity and striking white appearance, ghost sharks are poorly understood by researchers due to a lack of strong fossil records and the depths they reside in.
Finding a neonate will allow ecologists to better understand how these creatures begin the first days of their life and develop into adulthood.
“From better studied chimaera species, we know that juveniles and adults can have different dietary and habitat requirements. Juveniles also look dissimilar to adults, having distinctive colour patterns. Finding this ghost shark will help us better understand the biology and ecology of this mysterious group of deep-water fish,” Dr Finucci continued.