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A Rare Glimpse of the Adorable Deep-Sea ‘Pocket Shark’

​Male pocket shark found in 2010. Image J. Wicker/NOAA/NMFS/SEFSC/Miami Laboratory

​The elusive oceanic prowler Mollisquama parini—or the "pocket shark," as it's colloquially known—is the newest example of the largely unexplored biodiversity of the deep seas.

Only two of these adorable mini-sharks have only ever been glimpsed by humans. The first, a female, was captured at a depth of over 1,000 feet in the Nazca Ridge in 1979. Decades rolled by with no further sightings, until at last, a dead male pocket shark was recovered from the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.


This second specimen is the subject of a detailed open study in the latest issue of the taxonomy journal Zootaxa. It was much younger than the female captured in 1979, and still had a visible abdominal scar on its body. But both sharks shared the same characteristic pectoral pouches, which is the inspiration for the species's nickname (though its small size certainly applies too).

"The pocket shark we found was only 5 and a half inches long, and was a recently born male," said NOAA scientist Mark Grace, the lead author of the study, in a statement. "Discovering him has us thinking about where mom and dad may be, and how they got to the Gulf. The only other known specimen was found very far away, off Peru, 36 years ago."


The discovery suggests that pocket sharks are not only anatomically distinct from other deep sea sleeper sharks, but also occupy a much wider range than expected, apparently covering thousands of miles across two oceans.

The fact that both sharks were equipped with the mysterious pockets is also an interesting find, though Grace and his colleagues didn't have a conclusive theory about their function. Whether the pockets produce bioluminescent displays or houses pheromones remains to be determined, and Grace is optimistic about procuring more specimens.

"There's others" out there, he told ABCNews. "We just haven't caught them yet."

Just in time for the lead-up to Shark Week 2015, the pocket shark has made a powerful comeback. It looks like heavy-hitters like the great white will have to carve out a pocket-sized space for the newest kid on the selachimorphic block.