Meet the New “Ninja Lanternshark”

This newly discovered shark was named by the scientist’s young cousins. 

Published December 22, 2015

Scientists have discovered a new species of shark, one with jet-black skin, bulbous eyes, and special cells that allow it to glow in the dark. They call it the Ninja Lanternshark.

Officially named after Peter Benchley, shark-lover and the author of Jaws, the shark’s scientific name is Etmopterus benchleyi. But to come up with the shark’s common name, researcher Vicky Vásquez says she drew on a conversation she had with her 8-year-old cousins.

Vásquez explained to the kids that this shark uses photophores in its skin to produce a faint glow in the deep, dark ocean. Scientists believe the animals, which can grow to about half a meter in length, use this cloaking ability to blend in with the limited light penetrating the ocean’s depths and appear invisible from below. This helps them sneak up on small fish and shrimp while also avoiding becoming lunch for larger predators.

This super stealth, combined with the animal’s sleek, black appearance led the kids to suggest naming it the “Super Ninja Shark.” Vásquez says she didn’t think her colleagues would quite go for that, so she got them to scale the name back a little.

The Ninja Lanternshark grows to a length of about half a meter. Photo courtesy of Vicky Vásquez. 

“We don’t know a lot about lanternsharks. They don’t get much recognition compared to a great white,” says Vásquez, who is a graduate student at the Pacific Shark Research Center (PSRC) in California. “So when it came to this shark I wanted to give it an interesting story.”

“Taxonomy can sometimes be kind of dry, but the naming thing always gets people excited,” says Dave Ebert, program director for the PSRC.

Ebert says the discovery of the ninja lanternshark is just another example of how many species are still out there waiting to be described.

“About 20 percent of all shark species have been discovered in just the last ten years,” he says. “My whole research is looking for ‘lost sharks’.”

The newly minted ninja lanternshark is the first lanternshark to be found in the waters off of Central America.