Scientists Find an All-Black, Glowing Shark Species: the Ninja Lanternshark

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The ninja lanternsharp, or Etmopterus benchleyi, grows to 1.5 feet in length and lives nearly a mile beneath the ocean surface. Ocean Science Foundation

In the deep waters off the Pacific coast of Central America lurks an all-black, glowing shark that grows to 1.5 feet in length. First collected in 2010 by researchers from California, it has now been described for the first time and dubbed the ninja lanternshark.

Like other lanternsharks, it produces light with special organs in its body, which is likely used to communicate with other sharks, for camouflage and perhaps to attract prey.

The scientists who first found the fish, from the Pacific Shark Research Center in California, gave the species the technical name Etmopterus benchleyi. It's named after Peter Benchley, the author of Jaws. Although that book, and the movie, created a lot of fear toward sharks, Benchley later became a shark conservationist and established the annual Benchley Awards, which recognize achievements in ocean conservation.

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An immature male ninja lanternshark (Etmopterus benchleyi). Ocean Science Foundation

The common name for the shark came from a conversation that Vicky Vásquez (one of the co-authors of the study describing the shark, published this month in the Journal of the Ocean Science Foundation) had with her 8-year-old cousins, she told Hakai Magazine. They wanted to named it the "super ninja shark," but she settled instead on "ninja lanternshark." Still pretty cool.

The animal lives in the waters off the continental slope, at depths of 0.5 to 0.9 miles deep, where it is very dark. It presumably eats small fish and crustaceans although scientists don't yet know hardly anything about its diet or behavior. Its teeth are small, extremely sharp and nearly translucent, according to the study.

The find goes to show how little is known about biodiversity, the study's other author, Dave Ebert, told Hakai. He points out that 20 percent of all shark species have been discovered in the last decade.

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Etmopterus benchleyi, or the ninja lanternshark, has sharp and nearly translucent teeth. Ocean Science Foundation