Illustration of the pocket shark. (Credit: NOAA)
A monitoring project designed to study some of the largest animals on Earth ended up uncovering a very tiny — and incredibly rare — species of shark. The NOAA Ship Pisces set out from the Louisiana coast in 2010 to study sperm whales when scientists onboard inadvertently collected a five-and-a-half inch “pocket shark,” according to a NOAA press release.
The pocket shark is named for the orifice behind its pectoral fin, though it’s certainly small enough to fit in a pocket. The researchers didn’t find the shark at sea, but rather in a water sample back at the NOAA Fisheries lab in Pascagoula, Mississippi. Known by the scientific name Mollisquama parini, the specimen is the second of its kind ever found.
Pocket sharks are closely related to other species of sharks such as the kitefin and cookie cutter shark. Research from Tulane University’s Biodiversity Research Institute suggests that pocket sharks may feed in a manner similar to their relatives, biting oval-shaped plugs of flesh from unsuspecting marine mammals and large fishes.
Top image: Illustration of the pocket shark. (Credit: NOAA)