For five years, the body of an oil-black, rather creepy, and mysterious shark lay undisturbed and unexamined in storage. After getting some attention recently, a couple scientists have determined that the creature is actually a new species.
And with the help of some enthusiastic kids, the animal was given an awesome new name: Ninja Lanternshark.
The Ninja Lanternshark was caught back in 2010 in Pacific waters around Central America, the Huffington Post reported. The discovery of the creature, measuring about one-and-a-half feet long, was made during a research expedition, CBS Los Angeles added.
But instead of taking a closer look at the black fish, the animal was sent to the California Academy of Science to languish in temporary storage, “unlooked at for five years,” said Vicky Vasquez, a graduate student at California State, who helped make the discovery.
Vasquez and Dr. Douglas J. Long identified the strange animal as a new species after being asked to take a closer look at the corpse. They were joined by a man known for identifying new shark species, Vicky’s professor, Dr. David A. Ebert of the Pacific Shark Research Center at Cal State.
Firstly, there are many different kinds of lanternshark, but this is the first ever found near Central America. The animal had a few characteristics that pinpointed the strange specimen not just as a lanternshark, but as one deserving of a comparison to a ninja.
The Ninja Lanternshark has “two dorsal fins with a spine on each one,” and their upper and lower teeth are different. But it’s most interesting feature are light-emitting organs called photophores, Vicky told the Post. These allow the fish to be bioluminescent, their bodies covered in tiny glowing dots that they use as camouflage.
The photophores in its skin allow it to glow in the dark, albeit a faint glow, as it swims in the darkest depths of the ocean. With jet-black skin, this allows the Ninja Lanternshark to emulate the deep ocean and the limited, faint light that reaches into its depths, Hakai Magazine noted. Therefore, the Ninja Lanternshark is invisible when seen from below and can “sneak up” on its prey, like small fish and shrimp.
This cloaking ability also lets the creature hide from predators.
To celebrate this creature’s rather creepy distinction, Vasquez wanted to give it an awesome name to match. Sharks already have pretty interesting names — great white, hammerhead, goblin, and cookiecutter — but this animal needed something really special.
So, she reached out to some very creative people to come up with a new name for this new species — her cousins, who range in age from eight to 14. At first, the kids offered Left Shark Lanternshark and Super Ninja Shark, the latter in recognition of its stealth and black skin, but Vasquez wanted something a bit more acceptable to her colleagues.
Hence, the Ninja Lanternshark was born, the moniker an ode to its color and sneaky behavior. Vasquez hoped the unique name would give the new species a bit of attention — and it worked.
“We don’t know a lot about lanternsharks. They don’t get much recognition compared to a great white. So when it came to this shark I wanted to give it an interesting story.”
The creature’s scientific name rolls off the tongue with a bit more difficulty, but is still pretty cool. Researchers decided to honor Jaws creator Peter Benchley with this moniker: Etmoterus benchleyi, CNN added.
In an interesting side note, Vicky’s professor, Dr. Ebert, is in the business of identifying and describing “lost sharks.” His research is dedicated to this mission, since 20 percent of all shark species — including the newly-christened Ninja Lanternshark — have been discovered in the last decade.
[Photo via YouTube]