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Rare baby ghost shark looks like an alien

Reuters, February 27, 2022 3:00PM Kids News

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This rare baby ghost shark was found at a depth of 1200m off the east coast of New Zealand’s South Island. Picture: Brit Finucci media_cameraThis rare baby ghost shark was found at a depth of 1200m off the east coast of New Zealand’s South Island. Picture: Brit Finucci

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It looks like an alien from outer space and it’s almost as rare! This weird creature is a baby ghost shark that was found by scientists during a marine survey off the New Zealand coast.

Ghost sharks, also known as chimaeras, are not really sharks but are related to sharks, with both having skeletons made of cartilage*, rather than bone.

Not much is known about these mysterious marine creatures because they usually live at depths of up to 1830m, largely inaccessible* to researchers.

“What we do know tends to come from the large adults which are usually a metre, a metre-and-a-half in length, so finding one that actually kind of just sits in the palm of my hand is incredibly uncommon,” said Brit Finucci, a scientist at New Zealand’s National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research.

Deep-sea Chimaera. Chimaeras are most closely related to sharks, although their evolutionary lineage branched off from sharks nearly 400 million years ago, and they have remained an isolated group ever since. According to scientists, the lateral lines running across this chimaera are mechano-receptors that detect pressure waves, just like ears. The dotted-looking lines on the frontal portion of the face near the mouth are ampullae de lorenzini, and they detect perturbations in electrical fields generated by living organisms. Scientists using cutting-edge technology to explore waters off Indonesia were wowed by colourful and diverse images of marine life on the ocean floor, including plate-sized sea spiders and flower-like sponges that appear to be carnivorous. They predicted on 26 Aug 2010 that as many as 40 new plant and animal species may have been discovered during the three-week expedition that ended 14 Aug. (AP Photo/NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program) media_cameraScientists don’t have much information about ghost sharks but most of what they do know comes from adults like this one, which was found in waters off Indonesia in 2010. Picture: AP Photo/NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program

The newly hatched, or neonate, ghost shark was found at a depth of 1200m off the east coast of New Zealand’s South Island, Dr Finucci said.

Photos of the baby ghost shark show black fins connected to a body of translucent* skin with a wispy white tail and black eyes.

“I thought it was cool, other people on the boat not so much,” Dr Finucci laughed.

“I knew right away it was just something different that we don’t generally come across, so I grabbed it and took a couple of photos which have now spread all over the internet.”

Dr Finucci said juvenile* ghost sharks tended to be found at different depths than adult ghost sharks because they had different dietary and habitat needs.

“Juveniles also look dissimilar to adults, having distinctive* colour patterns,” she explained.

The creatures, which are also called ratfish, rabbitfish, elephant fish or spookfish, have large heads and oversized eyes compared to the size of their body.

Ghost shark egg capsules. For Kids News media_cameraBaby ghost sharks grow in egg capsules like these before hatching. Picture: Brit Finucci

Ghost shark embryos* develop in egg capsules laid on the sea floor, feeding off a yolk until they are ready to hatch.

“You can tell this ghost shark recently hatched because it has a full belly of egg yolk,” Dr Finucci said.

“It’s quite astonishing. Most deepwater ghost sharks are known adult specimens; neonates are infrequently reported, so we know very little about them.”

Dr Finucci said the “very rare and exciting find” would give some insight into the species.

“Finding this ghost shark will help us better understand the biology* and ecology* of this mysterious group of deepwater fish,” she said.

GLOSSARY

  • cartilage: a strong a flexible tissue found in bodies
  • inaccessible: not able to be accessed, reached
  • translucent: see through, allowing light to pass through
  • juvenile: not fully grown or developed
  • distinctive: easy to recognise because of its difference
  • embryos: babies before they are born or hatched
  • biology: the scientific study of life and living things
  • ecology: the study of the relationship between living things and their environment

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QUICK QUIZ

  1. What is one of the other names ghost sharks are known as?
  2. Why don’t we know much about these creatures?
  3. Where was this baby ghost shark found?
  4. What do ghost shark embryos develop in?
  5. How could Dr Finucci tell this baby had recently hatched?

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CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES
1. Animal profile
Create a one-page animal profile for the ghost shark. Include pictures, the different names it goes by, details on its habitat, diet and appearance, as well as any other key details that you think are important.

Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English; Science

2. Extension
Which of the chimaera’s other names do you think is most suited to it? Choose one and explain why this name suits the animal best.

Then, think of some new names of your own that you think would suit it.

Time: allow 10 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English

VCOP ACTIVITY
Read this!
A headline on an article – or a title on your text – should capture the attention of the audience, telling them to read this now. So choosing the perfect words for a headline or title is very important.

Create three new headlines for the events that took place in this article. Remember, what you write and how you write it will set the pace for the whole text, so make sure it matches.

Read out your headlines to a partner and discuss what the article will be about based on the headline you created. Discuss the tone and mood you set in just your few, short words. Does it do the article justice? Will it capture the audience’s attention the way you hoped? Would you want to read more?

Consider how a headline or title is similar to using short, sharp sentences throughout your text. They can be just as important as complex ones. Go through the last text you wrote and highlight any short, sharp sentences that capture the audience.

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