Many of us think of sharks as big, powerful apex predators who use power and speed to capture their prey. And while that’s true—just look at mako, great white and bull sharks—some sharks take a different approach.
The recently-discovered American pocket shark (Mollisquama mississippiensis) has a creative method to lure in its dinner. The 5 ½ inch-long shark secretes a luminescent substance to draw their prey close—similar to the tactics used by the deep-sea anglerfish.
Found in the Gulf of Mexico in February 2010 but only just recently classified, this new shark is only one of two pocket sharks known to science. The other species (M. parini) was discovered in the Pacific in the late 1970s. Both are considered incredibly rare. The two species vary in the number of vertebrae in their bodies and the presence of light-producing organs on their bodies.
So how does this luminescent elasmobranch get its glow? The shark has small glands under its pectoral fins that release a bioluminescent fluid when it’s hunting prey. Bioluminescence, or when an animal produces light through a chemical reaction, is common throughout the animal kingdom, including in fish, plankton, jellyfish and more. It can be used to attract prey, like in the American pocket shark, or to attract mates and deter predators.
Protecting the Gulf of Mexico is critical to preserving the animals we know—and have yet to discover. In an interview with Tulane News, director of the Tulane Biodiversity Research Institute Henry Bart stated that the fact we’ve only found one pocket shark in the Gulf “underscores how little we know about the Gulf—especially its deeper waters—and how many additional new species from these waters await discovery.”
Here at Ocean Conservancy, we are dedicated to preserving the Gulf of Mexico for generations to come. We have worked in the Gulf for over three decades to ensure that we have science-based restoration plans that go beyond the BP oil disaster and address the Gulf as one interconnected ecosystem.
This Shark Week, YOU can take action to help sharks, too. Help us protect the ocean ecosystem that the American pocket sharks—and countless other animals—call home.
Congress is taking on the issue of marine debris with the recent introduction of a new bill called the Save Our Seas 2.0 Act. You help us create safe places for sharks in the ocean—free from marine debris and trash.