A few years ago, Douglas Long and his colleagues from the California Academy of Sciences were helping D. Ross Robertson identify some chimaeras caught off the Pacific coast of Central America in 2010. Among the images were those of a mysterious pitch black shark. Intrigued, the marine ichthyologist asked the Smithsonian Institute researcher to lend him the preserved specimens so that his team could study the fish in detail.
When the shark specimens arrived, the researchers immediately suspected that they had stumbled upon a new species. To verify, they turned to shark expert Victoria Vasquez for help. It took a few years, but on December 21, 2015, the team was finally able to confirm that their initial hunch had been correct.
According to Vasquez, the black sharks belong to the lanternshark family. Though each species has its own distinguishing features, they all share one cool trait - The ability to glow-in-the-dark.
Marine scientists are not sure why the fish are bioluminescent. They speculate it could be to attract prey or to enable them to blend in with the dark ocean and escape predators.
Though there are over 40 known species of lanternsharks swimming in our oceans, they manage to keep a low profile because of their small size and tendency to stay in deep waters.
Vasquez says the new species features tiny photophores that glow throughout its body. Since they are not as widespread as those found in other lanternsharks, the researcher speculates that the fish does not show off its bioluminescence skills very often. The black sharks also have other distinguishing lanternshark features like spines on their dorsal fins as well as a different set of teeth on each jaw.
The researchers who published their findings in the Journal of the Ocean Science Foundation said that once it was confirmed that this was a new species they had come up with two names - One for the scientists and the other, for the rest of the world.
For the former, as a tribute to Peter Benchley, the now deceased author of the epic book and movie "Jaws," they settled on Etmopteru benchleyi. To come with a more fun common moniker, Vasquez decided to consult her four young cousins. After some deliberation, the group that ranged from 8 to 15 suggested the fish be called 'Super Ninja Shark.'
While that was a little over the top for the researchers, they had no objection naming it Ninja! It was the perfect name for the stealthy fish whose uniform black skin and subtle photophores make it virtually invisible in the deep dark oceans.
Those concerned about having to watch out for yet another shark can rest easy. For though this lanternshark has a big name, it grows to a maximum of 50 centimeters in length and resides more than 800-feet below the ocean's surface.
Resources: Ocean Sciences Foundation, deepseanews.com, huffingtonpost.com,gizmondo.com