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New glow-in-the-dark ‘Ninja’ shark species discovered

Wednesday, Dec 30, 2015,16:57 IST By Metrovaartha A A A

Los Angeles | Scientists have discovered a new species of sharks dubbed ‘ninja lanternshark’ that glow in the dark and dwell in the depths of the Pacific Ocean.

The researchers named the new species Etmopterus benchleyi, after Peter Benchley, the author of the book Jaws and co-author of its 1975 film adaptation.

With the help of a group of high school students, the researchers came up with the common name ninja lanternshark for the species. Nearly 40 other species of lanternsharks, which are marine predators with the ability to glow, live in oceans around the world, including the Indian, Atlantic and Pacific oceans, said lead author Vicky Vasquez, a graduate student at the Pacific Shark Research Centre in California.

However, this is the first time a lanternshark has been found off the Pacific coast of Central America, said Vasquez. In 2010, researchers observed eight lanternshark species swimming at depths ranging from 0.8 to 1.4 kilometres under the surface.

After a thorough analysis of the traits of the species they concluded that the sharks indeed came from a new species of lanternshark.

The new species had a uniform dark-black colouring, as opposed to the greys and browns seen on other lanternsharks, Vasquez told the ‘Live Science’. It also had a different number and distribution of photophores, which are the tiny cup-shaped organs that give lanternsharks the ability to glow.

Other lanternsharks have photophores all over their bellies, but the new shark has fewer, and most are concentrated on its head, Vasquez said.

Researchers have yet to see the new shark actually glow, but it likely gives off a blue light, like its lanternshark relatives, she said.

It is unclear why lanternsharks glow, but it is possible that the glowing photophores on the animals’ stomachs mask their shadows, allowing them to hide from animals swimming below them.

But it could also be that their glowing lights lure prey, such as smaller fish and crustaceans, towards the sharks, or serve as a means of communication, the researchers said.

The suggested common name, the ninja lanternshark, refers to the uniform black colouration and reduced photophore complement used as concealment in this species, somewhat reminiscent of the typical outfit and stealthy behaviour of a Japanese ninja, said Vasquez.

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