Rare Baby Ghost Shark Captured on New Zealand’s Chatham Rise.

Only in recent decades have researchers found that the fish have been gliding through the sea floors for hundreds of millions of years. Brit Finucci

There are around 52 species of chimeras. Half of which were found in the past two decades.

Chimeras or ghost sharks are considered one of the most sought-after species of fish found anywhere in the world. So marine biologists were thrilled when they saw a tiny ghost shark while investigating New Zealand’s South Island coast.

“We don’t know much concerning ghost sharks.” Brit Finucci, an National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) fisheries scientist, said to CNN’s Jeevan Ravindran. “What is known is in adult samples. Therefore, it’s extremely unusual and rare to see juveniles of a number of these species. So this is why I was so happy.”

The neonate, also known as a hatchling, was discovered at 394 feet (1,200 meters) on the Chatham Rise located east of New Zealand, reports Brandon Specktor of Live Science. NIWA researchers were studying blue grenadier, also known as Hoki fish, using traps that were trawled that were 4,000 feet deep when the ghost shark was accidentally captured as bycatch, says George Dvorsky of Gizmodo. This discovery could aid biologists in understanding Chimaeras and the way they grow.

As per Shark Trust, ghost sharks–also known as ratfish or rabbitfish, or spookfish — are not often seen by humans because most species can be found in depths of between 200 and 2,600 meters on the seafloor. In the last few years, scientists discovered that the fish had been around for millions of years, according to Annie Roth for the New York Times in 2020.

Like sharks and rays, ancient species split from these two groups around over 300 million years back, according to National Geographic’s Jason Bittel in 2016. The fish don’t possess bones but instead are cartilaginous. That means their bodies are stuffed with rigid armor-like plates and bone-like cartilage, Gizmodo reports. Adult ghost sharks are venomous with spines on their dorsal fins. They also traverse the sea with their fins flapping. In The New York Times, most males reproduce using an organ for sex that can be retractable, known as a tenaculum, which is found on their foreheads.

There are approximately 52 recognized chimera species. However, researchers believe more could be there. When female chimeras lay their eggs in their egg capsules on the seafloor or in muddy seabeds, the embryos grow inside and feed off the egg capsules until they are at the point of hatching. Based on the type of ghost shark, it takes anywhere from 6 to 12 months for the embryo to develop. The team suspects that the ghost shark was recently born since its stomach was full of egg yolks, and NIWA statement says.

Researchers aren’t sure of the specific species of the infant shark, but they are planning to run tests of genetics to discover the genus that it is part of, Live Science reports. Once researchers have figured out the species of the shark, they can then examine it against an adult to find out more about its growth from the stage of juvenile to mature.

It is currently unclear how long chimeras stay alive and how frequently they reproduce. The lack of crucial information about the species’ life cycles means that the study of chimera population numbers is complex, as the New York Times reports. In the 2020 Fish and Fisheries study co-authored by Finnuci, researchers discovered 16 percent of ghost sharks are endangered or in danger of becoming endangered. About 15 percent of ghost shark species are poorly studied, and they could disappear before scientists have the time to look at them.

There is a chance that locating the juvenile fish can answer some questions regarding the species.

“From more studied chimera species, we can see that juveniles and adults may have different diets and habitat needs. The ghost shark’s discovery will allow us to understand better the ecology and biology of this unknown group of deep-water fishes,” Finucci explained.

Brian Santiago

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