Elusive Deep-Sea “Ghost Shark”, the Species Older Than Dinosaurs Filmed for the First Time

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Though the predatory skills of great white sharks draw the attention of many, there is so much more to be explored and learned about their lesser-known relatives. One such relative is pointy-nose blue chimaera which was only seen a decade ago and has been recently spotted in the waters of North Pacific Ocean. Also, known as Ray Troll’s chimaera or abysmal ghostshark, these beautiful creatures dwell deep under the ocean and are immensely hard to find. If that piqued your interest, here is more about the elusive deep-sea ghost shark and the footage filmed in its natural habitat.

Previously thought to be native of the Southeastern Pacific, pointy-nosed blue chimaeras were recently discovered in the waters off Hawaii and California. They have an even blue-gray or pale blue color and a pointed snout, from which they get their name.

 

This species was first described in 2002 from 23 species captured off New Caledonia and were only identified by captured specimens that were caught in the southwestern Pacific, off Australia, New Zealand and New Caledonia. About 300 million years ago, these deep-sea ghost sharks have separated from their relatives, sharks and rays.

The scientific name Hydrolagus trolli and alternate name Ray Troll’s chimaera come from the name of an Alaskan artist, Ray Troll, because of his fascination and appreciation for these creatures, and fish in general. 

Unlike other ghost sharks, pointy-nosed blue chimaeras prefer rocky outcrops over flat, soft-bottomed terrains and are found at depths of 2,000 to 6,500 feet (610 to 2,100 meters). They are a hard to find species and only recently researchers from MBARI were able to film one using remotely operated vehicle. 

 

In 2009, the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) in California sent a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) on several dives up to depths of 6,700 feet off California and Hawaii. Luckily, the camera caught a fish that looked like a new ghost shark, but not one the researchers have seen before. After consulting Marine Biodiversity Records, they were able to identify it as a pointy-nosed blue chimaera.

Also, unlike the well-known sharks, chimaeras don’t have rows of ragged teeth and instead have mineralized tooth plates with which they munch on their prey. Another interesting thing about chimaeras is that the males have their sex organs on their foreheads which they can retract. 

 

The chimaera’s slender body and narrow head evenly taper to a whip-like tail and as a whole is probably around 4 feet in length. Apart from the teeth, other distinctive characteristics of chimaeras include hollow dead looking eyes and their shape, fin shaped like wings, snout shape and a pattern of open channels on their heads and faces, called lateral line canals, that contain sensory cells that can sense the movement of water to help them sense their prey. They love to eat mollusks, worms and other bottom-dwelling creatures. And an example of a male chimaera’s sex organ on a forehead can be seen in Ray Troll’s painting shown above.

The skeletons of chimaeras are made of cartilage instead of bone, which is what puts them in the category of sharks and rays. However, if further analysis reveals that they don’t belong to Hydrolagus trolli, it means they probably are a new species. 

 

The only way to be sure that this species belongs to Hydrolagus trolli is to get DNA samples from an actual specimen. But the only way they could catch a specimen to physically examine it or collect DNA samples from would be to use a trawler, which is very unreliable method considering the vastness of the sea, or patiently scour the fish markets.(1, 2, 3)

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