It’s not often that you hear of a shark being called ‘adorable,’ but in this case, the adjective fits. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) found an extremely rare specimen of a ‘pocket shark’ this week in the holdings of its lab in Pascagoula, Mississippi, collected in the deep sea of the Gulf of Mexico. It’s only the second specimen of this species ever found and measures just five inches long.
You might think it’s called a pocket shark because it’s small enough to fit in your pocket, but the moniker actually comes from a small orifice located behind its pectoral fin. Scientists aren’t sure what this orifice is used for, or how many more of these tiny sharks might be swimming around in the Gulf.
Just how rare are these little sea creatures? The first specimen was found a whopping 36 years ago off the coast of Peru. The one found in Mississippi – frozen along with a whole lot of other fish in 2010 – was a recently born male. Related to kitten and cookie cutter sharks, this little guy likely uses its teeth to take oval-shaped plugs from its prey, which includes marine mammals, large fish and squid.
This not-so-intimidating shark is a reminder of just how many creatures have yet to be discovered in the darkest depths of the sea, or even right off the coasts where we swim.
Photo credit: Michael Doosey, Tulane University