Pocket shark discovery is only the second ever seen

The second-ever pocket shark was collected off Louisiana. It sort of looks like a small whale. Photo courtesy of FishWatch.gov
The second-ever pocket shark was collected off Louisiana. It sort of looks like a tiny whale. Photo: courtesy of FishWatch.gov

A pocket shark—the rarest of sharks with only one specimen ever seen before—has been discovered by scientists, and in the most unusual way.

A male pocket shark measuring 5.5 inches long was collected during a 2010 midwater trawl survey 190 miles south of Louisiana by NOAA/NMFS Southeast Fisheries Science Center while studying prey of sperm whales.

The dead specimen was collected with other sea creatures, bagged up and stored in a giant freezer at NOAA’s lab in Pascagoula, Mississippi, until they could be identified, according to the Associated Press.

NOAA fisheries biologist Mark Grace, lead author on a just released study, has spent more than 30 years going through bags of fish to identify them. It took him three years before coming across the pocket shark.

Associated Press called it a small miracle that the pocket shark hadn’t been tossed out after NOAA’s freezer lost power a couple of times.

The pocket shark measured 5.5 inches. Photo courtesy of FishWatch.gov
The pocket shark measured 5.5 inches. Photo: courtesy of FishWatch.gov

“I wasn’t really sure what it was,” Grace told the Associated Press. “That pocket over on the pectoral fin, I had never seen anything like that on a shark.”

Grace recruited Michael Doosey and Henry Bart, Tulane University researchers, and NOAA Ocean Service genetics expert Gavin Naylor to help him study the rare sea creature, the results of which were published Wednesday in Zootaxa.

“It’s cute,” Doosey told the Associated Press. “It almost looks like a little whale.”

Pocket shark was collected in 2010 but not discovered in the lab until three years ago. Photo courtesy of FishWatch.gov
Pocket shark was collected in 2010 but not discovered in the lab until three years ago. Photo: courtesy of FishWatch.gov

The specimen, determined to have just been born, was identified and subsequently sent to New York and France for high-tech examinations.

The first pocket shark was found 36 years ago on the Naska Submarine Ridge in 1,083 feet of water in the southeast Pacific Ocean off Peru. The female specimen is 17 inches long and is currently housed in a Russian museum.

The latest pocket shark will be part of the Royal D. Suttkus Fish Collection at Tulane University’s Biodiversity Research Institute in Belle Chasse, Louisiana.

“Discovering him has us thinking about where mom and dad may be, and how they got to the Gulf [of Mexico],” Grace said in a statement on NOAA’s site.  “The only other known specimen was found very far away, off Peru…

“There’s others,” he added via Associated Press. “We just haven’t caught them yet.”

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