The pocket shark may have just ruined the “terror of the sea” image for sharks everywhere. Just look at it. The little guy isn’t just adorable; it turns out that the pocket shark is extremely rare. The photo is of the species of shark captured back in 2010. Nearly five years later it was finally identified.
The reason for the mix-up is that only one other pocket shark was ever caught; that shark, a female, was spotted off the coast of Peru 36-years ago.
Apparently the second pocket shark ever documented was snagged entirely by accident; scientists were attempting to monitor the feeding habits of sperm whales when they captured the critter. If you look closely, the pocket shark does seem to resemble a tiny sperm whale infant. But whereas whales are mammals, the pocket shark is a type of fish.
— Planet Green (@PlanetGreen) April 24, 2015
This particular shark specimen was a juvenile male that measured 5.5 inches in length. So much for the popular perception of sharks all being huge man-eating machines. This tiny fish is certainly pocket-sized, but according to a new study posted in Zootaxa, that’s not how the critter earned its name.
Officially identified as the Mollisquama parini, the “pocket” portion of its nickname was inspired by the “remarkable pocket gland” located right above its pectoral fin. Scientists are said to remain unsure what this pocket gland is for. One theory is that the gland is for releasing pheromones, as this is a behavior observed in other species of shark.
— NOAA Fisheries (@NOAAFisheries) April 24, 2015
It’s also worth noting that the only other pocket shark ever seen was a female that measured nearly 15 inches in length. That’s definitely not “pocket-sized,” even if it’s still rather small when compared to the larger sharks most people are afraid of.
However, just because the little shark is small and adorable (when compared with its larger cousins) doesn’t mean he should be taken lightly. Scientists believe the pocket shark may engage in a feeding habit similar to the “cookie cutter” shark. That shark earned its name thanks to possessing cookie-cutter-like teeth. The teeth allow the shark to remove a small “flesh plug” from its victims.
While many victims of the “cookie cutter” shark survive, including the hapless humans that have crossed them, the outcome of their attack couldn’t be construed as cute.
Despite this, scientists remain very enthusiastic about the recent discovery. Having a whole pocket shark to examine (the juvenile was dead when captured, but its remains were carefully preserved), can shed light on numerous questions about the elusive species.
[Image Credit: M. Doosey/Tulane University/GeoBeats News]