Scientists have identified a bizarre new species of deep sea shark cloaked in jet black skin, with haunting green eyes and a very faint glow.
Stuck for a name, one of the experts, shark researcher Dr Vicky Vásquez, asked her four cousins, aged 8 to 14, for inspiration. Their suggestion: the Super Ninja Shark.
It reminded the children of Japanese assassins, hooded and robed in black, slipping stealthily through the dark of night.
“They have all grown up being really interested in animals, especially sharks, so I knew if I gave them this opportunity they would be really excited,” Dr Vásquez told Foreign Policy.
Less excitable heads settled upon ‘Ninja Lanternshark’ as the more respectable name for the eight specimens originally dredged up in the Eastern Pacific Ocean in 2010, which were officially announced in the December edition of the Journal of the Ocean Sciences.
Deep sea fish expert Douglas Long, another member of the team who obtained and named the species, guessed the sharks used their inky skin to sneak up on prey, just like the shinobi of feudal Japan.
“[It looked] like a Japanese ninja dressed in black, and using their dark visage to their advantage, so prey may never see it coming,” Dr Long wrote in Deep Sea News.
Death from above
It took five years for the new species to be named, as the experts carefully counted teeth, measured fins and otherwise meticulously observed the sharks to be sure they really were a unique find. At last, they were certain.
The Ninja belongs to the lanternshark species, which often have glowing organs, thought to attract mates and prey. But unlike other lanternsharks, this species is thought to glow so faintly that its halo may actually blend with the light that filters down into the depths, rendering it invisible to any fish looking up at the surface.
Thus, it may be death from above. A shadow killer, truly a ninja.
Just like a Japanese assassin, the shark is armed with deadly blades. In its arsenal, rows of wickedly hooked teeth. From its mouth, there is no escape.
Thankfully, in case you ever find yourself swimming 1000 metres down in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Costa Rica (you won’t), and you catch a glimpse of pale green eyes, there’s no need to panic. One, sharks would be the least of your worries at that depth. Two, the Ninja Lanternshark is so small, you have nothing to worry about. Your foe is likely to be no more than 50 centimetres long.
A relative of Jaws
The Ninja is tiny, black and covert, surely the complete opposite of the grey, hulking giant of Spielberg’s classic film. But there is a link.
On the 40th anniversary of the publication of Jaws the novel, the discoverers of the Ninja chose to give a nod to its author.
Thus, the shark’s scientific name is Etmopterus benchleyi, for Peter Benchley, who was reportedly racked with guilt by the fact his book (and its film adaptation) prompted fear and hatred of sharks.
“He carried a burden of regret for the violent backlash against sharks unintentionally instigated by his book. For years afterward, he was not just an advocate for sharks, but a tireless campaigner in promoting ocean conservation,” Dr Long wrote in Deep Sea News.
So, if you do ever see the Ninja (you won’t), don’t be frightened. Think of shark lovers like Benchley, and the experts who named it and give it a knowing smile.