A tiny shark, discovered in the Gulf of Mexico with mysterious pouches near its front fins, has emerged as a new species, scientists say.
The aptly named American Pocket Shark, or Mollisquama mississippiensis, uses the bags to spray small shining clouds into the ocean. According to R. Dean Grubbs, a Florida State University scientist who was not involved in the research, it is only the third of more than 500 species of shark that may spew luminous liquid. The other two are the hitherto known bag shark and the back light shark with a similar gland near the tail.
"You have that tiny little glowing tuber shark that drives around in the oceans, and we know nothing about it," Grubbs told The Associated Press. "It shows us how little we actually know."
The new shark was discovered by Mark Grace, an ichthyologist at the National, Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). He collected a baby of this nature during a survey in 2010 to find out what sperm whales eat in the Gulf of Mexico by hauling in an area and at a depth where they had fed tagged whales.
He told AP that the American bag shark was in the last sample bag he opened about three years later.
"I've been in science for about 40 years," he said. "I can usually make a pretty good guess, I could not handle that guess, I thought I was doing something wrong."
The only other pocket shark known to science is a 16-inch adult female found in the Pacific Ocean. In comparison, the Grace-discovered American shark was a 5.6-inch newborn male.
WILLIAM MCKEEVER: SHARKS ARE NOT THREATENED THAT & # 39; JAWS & # 39; PORTRAYED muscle glands are lined with pigment-covered fluorescent projections that indicate they are splashing fluid, Grace and coworkers wrote in the journal Zootaxa. The shark also has clusters of light-emitting cells on its stomach.
A 2015 paper identified the shark as the second of its kind. It took years before high-resolution scans at the particle accelerator in Grenoble, France, yielded more internal detail to make sure it was a new species. Another European expert, Julien Claes, did a bit of dissection of the tissue to confirm his function.
"The collaboration was exciting," said Grace.
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"I can not get over it," he added. "I just remember that this is one of the big pieces of science to have such collaborations."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.