By now you may have seen headlines about glow in the dark sharks. What is the story behind them? Are there really glow in the dark sharks?
The short answer is “yes”. There are tiny sharks called pocket sharks that are extremely rare, now just two known species, that glow in the dark. In a recent article by Grace et al. in Zootaxa, the researchers describe a new species of kitefin shark, Mollisquama mississippiensis sp. nov. The newest species that was just identified and is currently making all the headlines was actually discovered in 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico. It is only 5.5 inches long and a young male. This shark has glands that produce a bioluminescent fluid. Additionally, this pocket shark has photophores, light-producing organs, all over its body. Based on the findings in the article, this shark was found in depths ranging anywhere from 1903- to 9967-feet deep during environmental sampling with trawl fishing.
Not the first pocket shark
The newest glow in the dark shark making all of the recent headlines is not the only one of its kind. The first pocket shark was discovered in 1979 in the Nazca Submarine Range off the coast of Chile, 1083-feet deep! This pocket shark was 16 inches long and an adult female. However, the newest one has photophores all of over its body unlike the one found in 1979.
Not the only organism
Other organisms that have an ability to emit a chemical to glow in the dark are glowworms, dinoflagellates (known for creating red tide), jellyfish, comb jellies, squid, fireflies, and others. The chemical that allows these organisms to glow in the dark is called luciferin. Scientists have found a way to adapt this chemical for use in the lab. This chemical is very important in studying several diseases and cancer. This chemical has been used to genetically modify other organisms such as fish, rodents, and cats to aid in research efforts. Luciferin is highly valuable in genetic engineering techniques.
Why glow in the dark?
The glow in the dark shark has the advantage that when it glows, the prey is attracted to it, and the shark can snatch it up. Many organisms glow to attract a mate, warn a predator to stay away, or to eat a nearby organism.
So, glow in the dark sharks are real. Just another awesome reason to explore the ocean depths! What will scientists find next?