Spiny dogfish produce unique lightshow with eyes

A spiny dogfish; photo from Wikimedia Commons

A spiny dogfish; photo from Wikimedia Commons

A tank full of spiny dogfish at the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre in British Columbia appear to be swimming around with their headlights on. In reality, spiny dogfish--aka mud sharks, spurdog and piked dogfish--are equipped with the same eye characteristics as cats. Add a bit of outside light and their eyes glow. Paul Kucera, whose sister is an educator at the BMSC, used light from his cell phone and videotaped the phenomenon, posting it on YouTube:

BMSC director Brad Anholt told GrindTV Outdoor in an email "that the glowing eyes are because dogfish have a tapetum that reflects light back onto the retina, in much the same way that a cat's does. They live pretty deep where there isn't a lot of light."

The spiny dogfish grow to 3 to 4 1/2 feet long, are native to the waters off British Columbia, and are probably the most common shark in the area, Dr. Hana Kucera told GrindTV Outdoor.

The circular tank will hold up to 200 spiny dogfish at a time, with the current stock being studied for the species' unique physiological functions, such as regulating gases and salts in their bodies, Dr. Kucera said.

Spiny dogfish photo is a screen grab from video

Spiny dogfish photo is a screen grab from video

An interesting aside is that the tank itself is historic. It was used in the early 1900s to store extra lengths of telegraph cable. (The Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre is located on the original site of the Pacific Cable Board cable station, open from 1902 to 1959.)

As for the history between the spiny dogfish and fishermen? It’s never been good, and it's not only because the shark is a nuisance to salmon fishermen, who hook the herring-loving dogfish.

Paul Kucera wrote on his post that the spiny dogfish feature "nasty, stabby spines and a general bad attitude."

"Hated by fishermen, one of these guys can ruin your day if you hook one," Paul Kucera said. "They'll put up a good fight, but you don't want one in your boat!"

That's because it has a sharp spine on each of the two dorsal fins that are used for defense. If captured, the fish can arch its back and pierce its captor, releasing a mild poison from glands at the base of the spines.

While they won't bite your finger, it's best to admire them at a distance--preferably in the dark with a little bit of light.

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