Back in 2010, government scientists out searching for new marine life hit the jackpot the moment they first came across a pocket shark. They found it in the Gulf of Mexico. The one they found was unfortunately dead at the time of discovery. The scientists placed the specimen into a freezer to ensure it would not decay as they searched for others of the species. The second sighting has opened up new insights about the species, which may lead to the possible locating of more pocket sharks in the future.
The one discovered those five years ago was only the second sighting. The initial discovery of the species was three dozen years ago. The one found in 2010, when a research team were observing and recording the feeding patterns of sperm whales, was reported to be a male, shorter than 6 inches long. The pocket sharks have two pockets beside their front fins, almost like they are pouches. The theory is that the pockets may be used for mating or defense, secreting either pheromones or luminous fluid.
According to those same researchers, the official name given to the species was Mollisquama parini. The team published the details of their findings in the Zootaxa journal. The pockets, or pouches, on its underbelly are somewhat similar to those a kangaroo has. Although, comparing the body of a pocket shark to a kangaroo’s, the pocket shark’s pouch is much too large for it. Its pouches take up around 4% of its body. It is rare to find an animal with a pouch of that size in direct proportion to their body. Michael Doosey with Tulane University remarked how much the pocket shark resembles whales.
Ever since the first sighting of the pocket shark, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has been working overtime trying to identify the species correctly. Mark Grace, a biologist with the NOAA, commented that the tiny shark’s history was a longtime water cooler topic. The mystery behind the pocket shark’s family and its life rested in the backs of their minds these past 30 years.
Grace was amazed to find the specimen they discovered way back when was never disposed of, noting that their facility lost power several times during the shark’s time in the freezer. Grace believes that there are others out there to be found.
The original discovery occurred on the Louisiana coastline. It was an adult female and 15 inches long. Grace, who was also a member of the team, said that the female is still relatively young, and has an umbilical scar. It was found on the Louisiana coastline.
Other than the physical traits both specimens shared, the pouches, their sizes, and the shape of their mouths, this small shark species is still shrouded with unknowns. Scientists have placed the pocket shark in the shark family called Dalatiidae, alongside cookie cutter sharks, with whom they share a similar feeding method based off the shape of their mouths.
The Mollisquama parini, with their unique pockets and rare and various locations have marine biologists excited over the possibility of finding one themselves. The search for these elusive animals, as proven over the past 30 years, will be extremely taxing. However, with a world full of eager minds and trained eyes on the case, pocket sharks may become the highlight of marine life for the upcoming years.
By Matthew Austin Bowers