Rare Baby Ghost Shark Found 4000ft Beneath the Sea

Scientists have found an extremely rare ghost shark hatchling nearly 4000ft below the surface of New Zealand's waters.

The deep water shark was found during a survey of the Chatham Rise, an area of ocean floor between New Zealand's South and Chatham islands.

Scientists at the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research carry out an ocean floor survey every two years to estimate fish populations. The data is then used to determine catch quotas for fisheries that operate around South Island.

Ghost sharks, also known as chimaeras, are distant relatives of sharks and rays that branched off from sharks 400 million years ago. They rarely venture far from the ocean floor, and are easily identified because of their large, high-set eyes and ghostly appearance. They live in the southwestern Pacific Ocean, along the coasts of southern Australia and New Zealand.

Because they live in such deep waters, this species is rarely seen by humans. There are thought to be over 50 different species of ghost shark, however little is known about them. Some species of ghost shark can grow to more than 6 feet in length.

This particular ghost shark was very newly hatched, evident by its belly full of egg yolk. Ghost shark embryos develop in egg capsules laid on the seafloor, feeding off a yolk egg until they are ready to hatch.

Ghost shark
The ghost shark was newly hatched, evident by its belly full of egg yolk. National Institute of Water & Atmospheric Research

Brit Finucci, fisheries scientist at the NIWA, was part of the team that made the discovery.

Finucci told Newsweek that because the species is rarely spotted, there are no estimates for the size of their population.

"We might see a couple of individuals on a research trip, and they're infrequently reported in fisheries. And for many of these species, we're still trying to determine their full distribution—new records pop up regularly as we explore more of the deep ocean," she said.

In a media release, Finucci said the hatchling was a "rare and exciting" find, as most known specimens are adults.

She said in the press release: "[The hatchling] is quite astonishing... from better-studied chimaera species, we know that juveniles and adults can have different dietary and habitat requirements. Juveniles also look dissimilar to adults, having distinctive color patterns. Finding this ghost shark will help us better understand the biology and ecology of this mysterious group of deep-water fish."

Further tests and genetic analysis will need to be carried out to determine the exact species of the hatchling.

Ghost shark
Ghost shark egg capsules lay on the sea floor until they are ready to hatch. National Institute of Water & Atmospheric Research