Scientists discover extremely rare baby ghost shark: ‘We just don’t see them’

Scientists say ghost sharks are scarcely spotted and a sightings of their young is even rarer

Maroosha Muzaffar
Wednesday 16 February 2022 11:14
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<p>Rare newly hatched deep-water ghost shark discovered by scientists in New Zealand’s South Island</p>

Rare newly hatched deep-water ghost shark discovered by scientists in New Zealand’s South Island

A rare baby ghost shark has been discovered by scientists in New Zealand off the east coast of the country’s South Island.

The discovery was made on Tuesday by National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) scientists during a survey near the Chatham Rise off the South Island.

A statement from NIWA on their website said the “neonate – or newly hatched – deep-water shark was collected at a depth of approximately 1200m on the Chatham Rise”.

Ghost sharks are also called chimaeras and are not actually sharks, but cartilaginous relatives of sharks and rays.

They are rarely found and sightings of their young ones are even rarer, according to NIWA.

Their embryos “develop in egg capsules laid on the seafloor, feeding off a yolk until they are ready to hatch,” NIWA said.

Brit Finucci, the NIWA scientist who was part of the team that made the discovery, called it “a very rare and exciting find.”

“Deep water species are generally hard to find, and like ghost sharks in particular, they tend to be quite cryptic. So we just don’t see them very often,” she told the BBC.

“You can tell this ghost shark recently hatched because it has a full belly of egg yolk. It’s quite astonishing. Most deep-water ghost sharks are known adult specimens; neonates are infrequently reported so we know very little about them,” Dr Finucci was quoted as saying in the NIWA statement.

She added that young ghost sharks exhibit totally different characteristics from their adult counterparts.

“From better-studied chimaera species, we know that juveniles and adults can have different dietary and habitat requirements. Juveniles also look dissimilar to adults, having distinctive colour patterns,” she said.

“Finding this ghost shark will help us better understand the biology and ecology of this mysterious group of deep-water fish,” she added.

Further tests and genetic analysis are needed so its exact species can be determined, she pointed out.

Chimaeras are also sometimes referred to as ratfish and have been around for millions of years.

Scientists from the Shark Specialist Group, a division of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, recently said that 16 per cent of ghost shark species are “threatened” or “near threatened.”

The assessment, published in December 2020 in the journal Fish and Fisheries, also found that 15 per cent of ghost shark species are “so understudied that their extinction risk cannot be determined,” according to The New York Times.

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