Happy Shark Week! Did you know that there is a mysterious shark that has been “missing” from the Gulf of Mexico since 2010?
The Fringefin Lanternshark (Etmopterus schultzi) is one of 14 endemic Gulf of Mexico fishes that have not yet been reported or are “missing” following the 2010 oil spill. Prosanta Chakrabarty, Curator of Fishes at the LSU Museum of Natural Science, and artist and biologist Brandon Ballengée have been looking for these missing species as part of their ongoing interdisciplinary art, science and outreach project titled Crude Life: A Citizen Art and Science Investigation of Gulf of Mexico Biodiversity after the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill.
Prosanta, Brandon and collaborators have enlisted local shrimpers, fisherman, youth and other Gulf residents to help search for these missing species. Brandon was recently awarded a Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship (SARF) to conduct work at the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH). Brandon has been photographing specimens representing these missing Gulf species and other species at the NMNH this summer to share with Louisiana residents and others when he returns to campus this fall.
Unfortunately, not much is known about the Fringefin Lanternshark. It is endemic (only found from) the Gulf of Mexico. In a paper published in 2012, Chakrabarty and colleagues found that this species had 90% of its known range in the same area in which the 2010 oil spill occurred. The species has only been collected five times since 2005.
The Fringefin Lanternshark reaches a maximum length of only 27 centimeters, making it one of the smallest species of sharks in the world. But despite its small stature, it does have live birth (not from external eggs), so it must make some cute baby sharks! Baby sharks are called pups.
“This species is bioluminescent and although it has never been observed live, other members of this shark family produce a greenish-yellow light,” Prosanta said. “Most specimens ever collected are from more than 1,000 feet deep. They use the light they produce for countershading – their bellies match the ambient light above them so they look invisible from below.”
In other words, predators swimming below the Fringefin Lanternshark don’t see it because the shark doesn’t produce a shadow!
Spot this species in the Gulf? Let Brandon know!
Photographs by Brandon Ballengée in collaboration with Sandra J. Raredon, Smithsonian Institution, Division of Fishes.
The "Crude Life" project has received support from an Interdisciplinary Projects Grant Award, National Academies Keck Futures Initiative (NAKFI), a project of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, Washington D.C.; Artspark Grant, Acadiana Center for the Arts (ACA) and Lafayette Economic Development Authority (LEDA), Lafayette, LA.; and University of Florida, Gainesville, FL.
- Chakrabarty, P., Lam, C., Hardman, J., Aaronson, J., House, P.H., Janies, D.A. (2012) SpeciesMap: a web-based application for visualizing the overlap of distributions and pollution events, with a list of fishes put at risk by the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill Biodiversity and Conservation 21:1865-1876.
- Chakrabarty, P., O'Neil, G.A., Hardy, B., Ballengee, B. (2016) Five Years Later: An Update on the Status of Collections of Endemic Gulf of Mexico Fishes Put at Risk by the 2010 Oil Spill. Biodiversity Data Journal 4: e8728: 1-27.