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Scientists discover new species of shark that glows in the dark to lure in food

The new species — an American pocket shark — was discovered in the Gulf of Mexico.
The newly identified American Pocket Shark was first discovered in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. [Tulane researcher Mark Doosey]
The newly identified American Pocket Shark was first discovered in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. [Tulane researcher Mark Doosey]
Published Jul. 22, 2019
Updated Jul. 22, 2019

It’s possible to get just about any meal delivered to your door in 2019, whether it be through Uber Eats or just the pizza delivery man.

That luxury applies to a certain species of shark, too, apparently.

Scientists at Louisiana’s Tulane University announced last week the discovery of a new species of shark in the Gulf of Mexico that uses bioluminescence to lure its next meal straight to its mouth.

Convenient, right?

The new species, named the ‘American pocket shark,' draws prey in with a glowing fluid it releases from a tiny pocket gland near its front fins. Practically invisible from below, it is believed the shark then stealthily attacks just as its prey swims over its mouth, according to a study published by Tulane and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

While the thought of swimming among a near-invisible, glowing shark can sound a bit terrifying, the shark’s size and rarity should make it less so.

Scientists have only discovered two pocket sharks worldwide. The first time was off the coast of Chile in 1979. The second time was the five-and-a-half inch American pocket shark that was discovered by Tulane researchers in 2010 during a mission to study sperm whale feeding.

Both species of pocket sharks keep their glow juice in pouches located near their gills. [Mark Grace, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration]

Though it was discovered nearly a decade ago, the American pocket shark has only now became its own independent species. This was determined after scientists found it had significant differences — such as a smaller size, fewer vertebrae and numerous light-producing photophores — from the 16-inch pocket shark discovered in the Pacific in 1979.

Scientists involved in the study believe the American pocket shark’s discovery shows how much there is still to be learned about the Gulf of Mexico.

“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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