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Ninja Lanternshark is the New Creep of the Deep

If you’ve got “ninja,” “shark” and “Benchley” (as in the author of “Jaws”) in your name, you must be one creepy fish. A newly-discovered species of shark accepted the challenge and definitely lives up to its name.

A Spanish deep sea trawler searching the waters of the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Central America found some strange-looking sharks in a catch in 2010. The specimens were taken to the Pacific Shark Research Center, which is part of Cal State’s Moss Landing Marine Laboratory in Moss Landing, California. There, the strangest of the sharks was assigned to graduate student Victoria Vasquez who had experience in shark ecology.

Victoria Vasquez identifying a Ninja Lanternshark

Victoria Vasquez identifying a Ninja Lanternshark

Vasquez first determined that this small (.5 meters or 18 inches long) deep sea dweller looked like it was a member of the lanternshark family, a species never before seen in Central American coastal waters. These unusual sharks have green-glowing bioluminescent organs that can serve a number of purposes – attracting lanternsharks of the opposite sex, turning fish lured to the warm glow into lunch, keeping the school together in the black depths of the ocean or helping the fish to blend in with the dim sunlight from above when observed from below.

A glowing velvet belly lanternshark

A glowing velvet belly lanternshark

While this species had the glow of the lanternshark, it also had something else never seen before in the species – pitch-black skin. That seemed to allow the shark to turn off the lights and completely disappear in the surrounding black water. According to Vasquez’s report in the current edition of the Journal of the Ocean Sciences foundation, that trait identified this as a new species of lanternshark … which meant she got the honor of giving it a name.

Four views of the Ninja Lanternshark

Because the lanternshark doesn’t get the kind of attention great whites or tornado-lifted sharks get, Vasquez decided to name it Etmopterus benchleyi after “Jaws” author and noted shark and ocean conservationist Peter Benchley (Etmopteridae is the lanternshark family name). Vasquez asked her younger cousins for a suitable nickname for a pitch-black fish that can suddenly disappear into the darkness and they came up with Ninja Lanternshark.

Now all it needs is a “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”-type song. Nathan the Ninja Lanternshark?

Nathan? I like it!

Nathan? That’s MY name!