NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - An extraordinarily rare shark fished out of the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 has now been identified as a 'pocket shark.' Researchers say it is only the second of its species ever seen.
It was collected in the deep sea about 190 miles offshore Louisiana during a 2010 mission by the NOAA Ship Pisces. The dead specimen spent several years in the holding of NOAA's lab in Pascagoula before recently being identified.
The species common name is the "pocket shark," though those in the field refer to it by its scientific name Mollisquama sp..
While it is small enough to fit in your pocket, it's dubbed "pocket" because of the distinctive orifices behind its pectoral fin. Researchers say it has two pockets next to its front fins – much like the pouch on a kangaroo.
It's one of many features scientists hope to better understand.
"The pocket shark we found was only 5 and a half inches long, and was a recently born male," said Mark Grace of NOAA Fisheries' Pascagoula, Miss., Laboratory. "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."
Grace was part of the 2010 mission in which the shark was found. After uncovering a sample at the lab years later, he recruited Tulane University researchers Michael Doosey and Henry Bart, and NOAA Ocean Service genetics expert Gavin Naylor, to give the specimen an up-close examination.
A tissue sample was collected, and by tapping into the robust specimen collection of Tulane University's Biodiversity Research Institute, scientists were able to identify the fish as a pocket shark.
Researchers say the pocket shark is closely related to the kitefin and cookie cutter species.
The specimen is part of the Royal D. Suttkus Fish Collection at Tulane University's Biodiversity Research Institute in Belle Chasse, La., and it is hoped that further study of the specimen will lead to new discoveries.
"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.