PASCAGOULA, Miss., April 23 (UPI) -- NOAA researchers recently made an extremely unlikely discovery. While filtering through a holding tank of deep ocean water collected in 2010, scientist Mark Grace found a tiny shark he'd never seen before.
When researchers compared a tissue sample against the massive specimen collection at Tulane University's Biodiversity Research Institute, they confirmed the specimen to be a pocket shark -- named for two small pockets beneath its fins, the utility of which remains unknown. The pocket shark is just the second specimen ever found.
"The pocket shark we found was only five and a half inches long, and was a recently born male," Grace, a biologist at the NOAA Fisheries' lab in Pascagoula, Mississippi, said in a press release. "Discovering him has us thinking about where mom and dad may be, and how they got to the Gulf. The only other known specimen was found very far away, off Peru, 36 years ago."
The specimen was apparently slurped up when researchers captured a giant tank of water 190 miles off the coast of Louisiana. The original purpose of the 2010 expedition by NOAA's ship Pisces was to study sperm whale feeding in the Gulf.
Until now, researchers thought the rare shark was exclusive to the deep waters of the southeast Pacific Ocean, near Chile and Peru.
Genetic analysis suggests the pocket shark belongs to the genus Mollisquama. It is closely related to the kitefin and cookie cutter sharks, two members of the family Dalatiidae. Little else is known about its biology, behavior or habitat range.
"This record of such an unusual and extremely rare fish is exciting, but its also an important reminder that we still have much to learn about the species that inhabit our oceans," Grace added.
The discovery was recently detailed in the journal Zootaxa.