When you hear tales of sharks in the Gulf of Mexico, most people imagine large fish measuring up to 2o-feet long, jaws filled with razor-sharp teeth.
Few of us would picture one that measures less than 6 inches and glows in the dark.
But the recent identification of such a “pocket shark” found in the Gulf on Mexico has researchers from Tulane University in New Orleans and across the globe abuzz, according to a news release from Tulane.
The 5½-inch male kitefin shark has been identified as the American Pocket Shark, or Mollisquama mississippiensis. It was caught in the eastern Gulf of Mexico in February 2010 by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) ship Pisces, during a mission to study sperm whale feeding.
The specimen sat on a shelf until 2013, when Mark Grace of NOAA’s NMFS Mississippi Laboratories found it while examining specimens collected during that mission.
A team of researchers, including two from Tulane, identified the new species of pocket shark, after comparing it to a pocket shark captured in the Eastern Pacific Ocean in 1979 that is now housed at the Zoological Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia.
“In the history of fisheries science, only two pocket sharks have ever been captured or reported,” Grace said. “Both are separate species, each from separate oceans. Both are exceedingly rare.”
Researchers said both species both have two small pockets that produce luminous fluid (one on each side near the gills), which researchers believe allows them to glow in the dark.
“The fact that only one pocket shark has ever been reported from the Gulf of Mexico, and that it is a new species, underscores how little we know about the Gulf,” said Henry Bart, director of the Tulane Biodiversity Research Institute.
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