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Meet the pocket shark: Extremely rare and only seen once before

By Megan Hamilton     Apr 25, 2015 in Environment
Sharks are handsome creatures, and generally, most of us don't think of them as cute. Chances are, many of us may think of them as stately, graceful, and cunning creatures, but no, not cute.
Except for the pocket shark. It is very cute, and very rare.
Chances are, biologist Mark Grace wasn't looking for "cute" during the three years it took to work his way through an enormous batch of fish collected by The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for a 2010 study. These fish were collected about 190 miles off the coast of Louisiana, and the study was on sperm whale feeding,CNet reports.
Then Grace, who works for the NOAA and is the study's lead author, came to the tiny shark, which, like the rest of the fish, had been frozen. He knew he'd stumbled onto a creature that was very unusual. This little fish, just 5.5 inches long, came with a "remarkable pocket gland with its large slit-like external opening located just above the pectoral fin," the research paper reported. Scientists aren't really sure what the pocket's purpose is, but basing their research on a similar species, the scientists think it may be used to release pheromones. It's for this unique pocket that the shark is named.
The pockets aren't really like a kangaroo's pouch, which is used to carry young, but few creatures have pockets this large — at about four percent of the shark's body, NBC News reports..
"It's cute," said Michael Doosey, a biologist at Tulane University, who co-authored the study, which appeared in the zoological journal Zootaxa. "It almost looks like a little whale."
The shark is a young male that's likely only a few weeks old, and it's only the second of its species ever seen, NBC News reports. The first pocket shark was discovered 36 years ago in the Pacific Ocean near the coast of Peru. That shark was an adult female at just over 15 inches in length and it's been in a Russian museum ever since its discovery.
Much about the pocket shark (Mollisquama parini) remains mysterious to scientists, which is why the discovery of a second specimen is so exciting, The Washington Post reports.
What is known is that this shark is a member of the family Dalatiidae, and as a relative of the cookie cutter shark, it may employ a rather unusual feeding method.
"Sharks of the genus Isistius (cookie cutter sharks) employ a unique feeding behavior that allows them to use their cookie-cutter-like teeth to excise a nearly symmetrical oval flesh plug from a variety of prey species including marine mammals, tunas, billfishes, and squids," the study reports, per The Washington Post.
"This record of such an unusual and extremely rare fish is exciting, but its also an important reminder that we still have much to learn about the species that inhabit our oceans," Grace said in a statement, CNet reports.
One other interesting facet of the pocket shark?
Grace and his team discovered the shark's belly had "ventral abdominal photophore agglomerations." which, in science-speak, means it's underside was studded with light-emitting organs.
Now don't you wish you had that?
More about pocket shark, pocket shark like a kangaroo, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, Louisiana
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