Researchers in New Zealand have discovered three new species of shark that glow in the dark.
There’s a lot of estimates out there, but if we go by National Geographic, humans have yet to explore more than 80% of Earth’s ocean. We know more about the surfaces of the moon and Mars than our own seabeds and the vast expanse of water across the planet.
Glow-in-the-dark sea life isn’t something new; even the most casual viewer of Planet Earth knows that. However, down in Australasia, scientists have uncovered three new species of shark with the luminous trait.
As per a new study published in the Frontiers in Marine Science journal, a Chatham Rise Trawl survey conducted by the R.V. Tangaroa in New Zealand back in January 2020 uncovered three species of shark for the first time: the kitefin shark, the blackbelly lanternshark, and the southern lanternshark.
The kitefin is said to be largest underwater creature currently known, estimated to grow up to 1.8m long, earning its title as the ‘giant luminous shark’.
However, compared to other sharks, it’s relatively small. The biggest shark in the world is a whale shark, capable of growing up to 17m long, followed closely by the 15.2m basking shark. Then you have megamouth sharks, which can grow up to 7.6m, as well as 7.5m tiger sharks.
The great white shark is arguably the most recognisable species of its kind – cursed and thanks in part to Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, making them one of the sea’s best villains – but it’s not necessarily massive, growing up to 6.1m.
As noted above, bioluminescence has been documented across a number of sea creatures, whether it’s jellyfish, squid or other fish. However, this marks the first time proof of light emission has been found in sharks.
The study, led by researchers from Belgium and New Zealand, explains, ‘Bioluminescence has often been seen as a spectacular yet uncommon event at sea but considering the vastness of the deep sea and the occurrence of luminous organisms in this zone, it is now more and more obvious that producing light at depth must play an important role structuring the biggest ecosystem on our planet.’
The three sharks live in the mesopelagic zone, also known as the twilight zone, ranging from 200m to 1,000m in depth. The study dubs this ‘the realm of bioluminescence’, as solar light cannot pierce through the water and is too weak to initiate photosynthesis.
The researchers also note slight confusion at why the kitefin has the glow-in-the-dark ability, considering it has fewer predators than the other two, indicating a need for further studies.
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