NEW ORLEANS– Scientists have made a very rare discovery. They’ve found a glow-in-the-dark shark which secretes a bioluminescent fluid. Researchers at Tulane University’s Biodiversity Research Institute and NOAA (National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration) made this rare discovery.
Tulane’s Biodiversity Research Institute is the largest collection of fish samples in the world. They have over seven million specimens, but one is surely a stand out.
“This is our most celebrated specimen,” Dr. Hank Bart, Director of Tulane Biodiversity Research Institute said.
Hank Bart, along with Michael Doosey of Tulane, and Mark Grace, Research Biologist with NOAA collaborated to discover this American Pocket Shark which glows-in-the-dark.
“You can see the pocket gland on this shark, right above it is its fins, there is its pectoral fin, and it releases a luminous fluid. This shark has tiny light-emitting spots on its skin called photophores that are thought to glow in the dark,” Bart said.
The discovery began back in 2010 when Mark Grace was on a research expedition in which they were surveying fish samples in the Gulf of Mexico. They were actually studying what whales eat in the Gulf.
“I found a shark that I couldn’t identify. I wasn’t really sure. I hadn’t heard of a pocket shark before. There’s only been only one other American Pocket Shark caught, and that was in the Pacific. It is currently in a collection in Russia. This is only the second one, so I’d say it’s rare,” Grace said.
Mark Grace took his samples to Tulane’s Biodiversity Research Institute and that’s when they started studying, researching, and learning more about this extraordinary creature. It took researchers about 3 years to study 3,500 different samples.
“At first I’d look at this specimen almost all day, every day. I think our next goal is to maybe understand the anatomy of the pocket gland, and its procedures and how it secretes the luminous fluid,” Michael Doosey, Researcher at Tulane University said.
“Not only can it glow in the dark, but it produces a luminous cloud, perhaps almost a metallic blue glow, a blue cloud, but it would have to be confirmed with an American Pocket Shark that is seen alive,” Grace said.
The American Pocket Shark they discovered was a male about 5.5 inches in length. No living pocket shark has ever been found. Scientists believe that they feed by taking bites out of larger animals like whales, tuna, and squid.
Scientists believe that its glow-in-the-dark features possibly help to attract prey, or attract a mate, or even possibly as a way for them to camouflage.
“What is significant about this discovery is that it tells us about the discoveries that are yet to be made, particularly in the deepwater of the Gulf,” Bart said.
“We think we know a lot about the Gulf of Mexico, what animals are there, but this shark is proof that we are still discovering new things and that’s exciting,” Doosey said.