A new shark species from the deep waters off the northwestern Hawaiian islands has been discovered recently. Don’t worry, this diminutive creature is less than a foot long, and you won’t see it on our Hawaii snorkeling tours because it has been found only at depths of 1,000 feet. That explains its most exciting feature: it glows in the dark. Very little light is able to reach such great depths, so many creatures living there make their own. In the case of this shark, the light attracts its prey.
The new species is a member of the Lanternshark family, and measures under a foot in length and two pounds when fully grown. This particular species, Etmopterus lailae, has taken over 17 years to identify since its first discovery. Although it was first seen then, marine scientists were only recently able to confirm that it is a new species.
The discovery was published in the journal Zootaxa. Stephen M. Kajiura was one of the co-authors, and he began working on the project when he was still in graduate school at the University of Hawaii. He now has a Ph.D., works as a professor of biological sciences, and is the director of the Elasmobranch Research Laboratory in the Charles E. Schmidt College of Science at Florida Atlantic University.
According to Kajiura, there are a total of 450 known species of sharks worldwide, which isn’t much, so identifying a new shark species is a pretty exciting situation, for those who discovered it, along with the scientific community and marine life enthusiasts. Given the tiny size of the shark, and its deep water habitat, finding it in the first place was even luckier than the average new species discovery.
After a rigorous process of comparisons between the physiology of this shark versus other specimens of similar species, the participating scientists found that Etmopterus lailae was different from other Lanternsharks. It has an unusually large, bulging snout that indicates special adaptations. The nostrils are prominent, and so are the olfactory organs, which are involved in processing smells. Being a predator in the deep, dark ocean at 1,000 feet requires this species to have an especially good sense of smell.
Although there are a number of differences between this shark and other Lanternsharks, it does have the bioluminescence in common with its relatives. Marine scientists have attributed this trait to several possible functions, including mate recognition, camouflage, and the ability to lure small prey. It’s amazing, the kinds of adaptations you see from marine creatures in the Hawaiian island chain. Although this elusive little creature was an extremely rare find for scientists, you can see a wide variety of stunning marine life when you join us aboard our Lanai Snorkeling Tour and our Molokini Snorkeling Tour. Exploring the underwater world in Hawaii is one of the most enjoyable experiences vacationers can have. We hope you’ll join us soon! Mahalo!