Just When You Thought It Safe: Ninja Sharks Have Been Discovered

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In case sharks and tornadoes individually weren’t terrifying enough, writers created the “Sharknado”; now ninjas and their stealth-like qualities have come together to give us the “Ninja lanternshark.”

Guatemala doesn’t need this

Living in Guatemala is dangerous enough, so imagine my chagrin to read this morning that a new species of ninja sharks have been discovered off the Pacific coast of Central America. In order to reach the closest beach from the lovely, relatively safe confines of colonial Antigua Guatemala visitors and residents alike must brave bandidos, crazed drivers, drug cartels, etc. Once you arrive in Monterico, you’re left with an ocean designed to drown you with undertows and riptides that I’ve never experienced in travel  that has taken me to over 50 countries including a number with coastlines and/or raging rivers. And now you’re telling me those same waters that feel as if you’re swimming in a giant washing machine during a “heavy” wash cycle has “ninja sharks” down there somewhere?

Thankfully, the answer is no. This new species of shark has yet to be spotted this far north. It’s southernmost sighting was in Nicaragua with the bulk being found off the Pacific coasts of Costa Rica and Panama. That’s little comfort when I know they can swim.

Not the only glowing shark, but the only ninja shark

There are nearly 40 other species of lanternsharks in the world, marine predators that light up their deeps with a dimly glowing head to compensate for the dark waters they dwell. These lanternsharks, until recently were never found in Central American waters. In 2010, researchers observed eight lanternsharks swimming between 0.5 miles and 0.9 miles in depth. These findings and subsequent studies were recently published by Vicky Vásquez, lead author of the report and a graduate student in marine science at the Pacific Shark Research Center in California.

Unlike other lanternsharks, the so-called Ninja shark has a uniform jet-black color as opposed to grey or brown according to Vasquez. Most lanternsharks which use photophores to “glow” have these tiny organs located all over their bodies. Not the ninja shark where most of its photophores are concentrated on its head. To say it glows might be a bit of a misnomer, it’s more an emission of a blue light making the ninja characterization a little easier to swallow. I’m no expert on ninjas but in my relative experience (through film, thankfully) glowing would kind of hinder their ability to sneak up on you in the dark. That said, I’m not saying there are no glowing ninjas what with all that nuclear waste that created Godzilla lying around the ocean’s floor.

With fewer photophores that other lanternsharks, “we’re assuming our shark doesn’t glow as brightly,” says Vásquez.

Researchers remain uncertain why lanternsharks glow but posit that glowing stomachs would mask their shadows from sea creatures swimming below them. It’s also been speculated that curiosity isn’t just good for killing cats but might lure prey, that likes water more than a cat, closer to the shark. Some researchers have even suggested that the glow could be used for communication purposes though that seems a bit far-fetched.

The naming of the “ninja” shark

In an “homage” to the Peter Benchley, author of “Jaws”, the researchers named the new species Etmopterus benchleyi.

But, Vásquez thought it would be fun to bring four of her younger cousins into the naming fray along with a group of high school students in search of a common name.

“They started with ‘super ninja,’ but I had to scale them back,” Vásquez said, laughing while speaking to Live Science.

After consulting with her co-authors, she penned in her report, “The suggested common name, the ninja lanternshark, refers to the uniform black coloration and reduced photophore complement used as concealment in this species, somewhat reminiscent of the typical outfit and stealthy behavior of a Japanese ninja.”

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