The 5 1/2 inch American pocket shark is the first of its kind to be discovered in the Gulf of Mexico, according to a new Tulane University study. It is less scary than miraculous.
Scientists discovered a juvenile Kitefinhai in 2010 when studying sperm whales in the Gulf. It was only re-observed in 2013, when National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) researcher Mark Grace found it in a pool of less luminous specimens.
It's just the second bag-shark ever caught or recorded, Grace said in a statement. The other was found in 1979 in the eastern Pacific.
"Both species are different species, each from different oceans," he said. "Both are extremely rare."
According to the paper, the shark excretes a glowing fluid from a tiny pocket gland near its front fins. It is believed that it helps attract prey that is attracted to shine, while the tiny predator, invisible from below, secretly attacks.
Bioluminescence is common in the sea
A glowing ocean organism is hardly unique. NOAA estimates that about 90% of the animals living in open water are bioluminescent, although research on deep-sea organisms is sparse.
According to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, the glow of an animal is triggered by a chemical reaction that releases light energy. Organisms light up to attract a partner, warn an attacker to stay away, or in most cases make a meal out of a smaller swimmer.
Remember the fangs with the glowing antenna, the Marlin and Dory in "Finding Nemo?" It's called a black Seeadevil, and it's very real and very terrible. According to the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, it lures prey into the jaw by dangling a bioluminescent spine above the head.
shudder. Even more enchanting is that hordes of bioluminescent plankton turn the oceans neon blue at night. The results are less impressive during the day: The dinoflagellates discolor the water in a phenomenon known as the Red Tide, according to the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.