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Three new glowing sharks light up twilight zone

Charlotte Edwards, March 3, 2021 7:00PM The Sun

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Lateral luminescent pattern of Dalatias licha, the kitefin shark. The top is the daylight view. The red arrow shows the luminescence of the second dorsal fin. Picture: Jérôme Mallefet, Darren W. Stevens and Laurent Duchatelet media_cameraLateral luminescent pattern of Dalatias licha, the kitefin shark. The top is the daylight view. The red arrow shows the luminescence of the second dorsal fin. Picture: Jérôme Mallefet, Darren W. Stevens and Laurent Duchatelet

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Three new species of sharks have been found off the coast of New Zealand and they all glow in the dark.

The amazing creatures were discovered by researchers hundreds of metres below the surface of an ocean area called the Chatham rise in the South Pacific Ocean off the New Zealand east coast.

The sharks are called the kitefin shark, the blackbelly lanternshark and the southern lanternshark.

Their scientific names are Dalatias licha, Etmopterus lucifer and Etmopterus granulosus.

Scientists actually found them back in January 2020 but they’ve just published a study that focuses on the kitefin shark, the largest known underwater creature that glows in the dark.

Lateral and dorsal luminescent pattern of Dalatias licha. (A) Lateral daylight view and luminescent pattern highlighting the dorso-ventral luminous pattern. (B) Dorsal daylight view and luminescent pattern. Luminescence of the second dorsal fin is observable on this specimen (red arrowhead). Scale bar: 10 cm. media_cameraDorsal luminescent pattern of Dalatias licha, the kitefin shark. The top is the daylight view. The red arrow points to the second dorsal fin. Picture: Jérôme Mallefet, Darren W. Stevens and Laurent Duchatelet

Kitefin sharks swim 300m below sea level, which is probably why it’s taken so long to discover them.

They eat other sharks, fish and crustaceans.

Kitefins can grow to almost 1.8m, which is around the average height of a human man.

Researchers now refer to it as a “giant luminous shark” but it’s nowhere near as big as a great white shark, which can grow to more than 6m.

media_cameraGreat white sharks can grow up to 6m long, compared to kitefin sharks, which grow to about 1.8m. Picture: Jem Cresswell/Tourism SA

The study was conducted by marine biologists from Belgium and New Zealand and has been published in the Frontiers in Marine Science journal.

The researchers wrote: “Bioluminescence has often been seen as a spectacular yet uncommon event at sea but considering the vastness* of the deep sea and the occurrence of luminous organisms in this zone, it is now more and more obvious that producing light at depth must play an important role structuring the biggest ecosystem on our planet.”

All three sharks were found in a region of the sea called the “twilight zone”.

This is an area between around 200m and 1000m below the surface that sunlight does not reach.

It’s thought the sharks use their glow to attract or hide from prey at these depths and may even use it to confuse potential predators.

However, the kitefins are so large they don’t have many predators.

Researchers will continue to study them to find out exactly why they glow.

They wrote: “Studying light emission* of the kitefin shark, the blackbelly lanternshark, and the southern lanternshark, might increase our understanding of their bioluminescence functions, and possible prey-predation relationships between these species.”

Firefly insects are actually beetles, nocturnal members of the family Lampyridae. Most fireflies are winged, which distinguishes them from other luminescent insects of the same family, commonly known as glowworms. There are about 2,000 firefly species. These insects live in a variety of warm environments, as well as in more temperate regions, and are a familiar sight on summer evenings. Fireflies love moisture and often live in humid regions of Asia and the Americas. In drier areas, they are found around wet or damp areas that retain moisture. media_cameraA glowing beetle of the family Lampyridae.

SOME OTHER GLOWING CREATURES

  • Glow worms, a general name people use to refer to the larvae and adult life-cycle stages of a variety of insects such as beetles and mosquito-like gnats
  • Firefly squid
  • Crystal jellyfish
  • Quantula striata, a tropical land snail

This story was first published on The Sun and is republished with permission.

media_cameraGlow worms in a cave in New Zealand. Picture: Shaun Jeffers

GLOSSARY

  • vastness: large size of something
  • emission: putting out something, such as light or sound

EXTRA READING

Dolphins dance through glowing algal bloom

Mushrooms light up the night

Giant squid attacks fake jellyfish near midnight zone

Inside the shark tank Sea Life Aquarium

QUICK QUIZ

  1. What has been discovered? Where?
  2. In what depth of water do they live?
  3. Why might they glow? Do we know?
  4. What are glow worms?
  5. What is Quantula striata?

LISTEN TO THIS STORY

CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES
1. What Do You Think?
List the advantages of being able to glow in the dark for the kitefins and laternsharks.  Are there any disadvantages? List those too.

Time: allow 20 minutes to complete this activity 
Curriculum Links: English, Science, Critical and Creative Thinking

2. Extension
If we could tame the glowing sharks, how do you think they could help us? Brainstorm as many ideas as you can.

Time: allow 20 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Science, Critical and Creative Thinking

VCOP ACTIVITY
Aside from this, there is also this!
Brackets are a great literacy tool for adding aside comments, or comments that could be covered over and the sentence still makes sense. What’s inside the brackets is extra information.

They can be used for a variety of effects: to add more detail, to add humour, to connect with the reader etc.

For example: My little brother, (the funniest kid I know) got himself into big trouble today.

Select 3 sentences from the article to add an aside comment to using brackets. Think about not only what you want to add to the sentence, but also what effect you are trying to create.

Extra Reading in animals