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New Type of ‘Ghost Shark’ With Enormous Head Discovered off Thailand

Ghost shark
Rare male ghost shark found by researchers in the Andaman Sea. Credit: David A. Ebert / Raffles Bulletin of Zoology

A new type of “ghost shark” has been found by researchers in the deep Andaman Sea near Thailand. This ghost shark is unlike any seen before with a big head, large shiny eyes, and feather-like fins.

The newly found creature is known as a Chimaera supapae. It belongs to a group of ancient fish called Chimaeriformes, which are far-off relatives of sharks and rays.

The discovery was detailed in a scientific paper published on March 6th in The Raffles Bulletin of Zoology.

Chimaera are not commonly found in this part of the world, according to David Ebert, the main writer of the study and head of the Pacific Shark Research Center at San José State University in California.

Chimaeras are found at depths below 1,640 feet

Chimaeras live in the deep sea, dwelling along the slopes and ridges of the ocean floor. They prefer depths below 1,640 feet (500 meters), where the water is dark. These chimaeras feed on creatures such as crustaceans, mollusks, and worms that dwell on the ocean floor.

There were previously only fifty-three known types of chimaera worldwide, according to Ebert. Their habitat in the deep sea makes them hard to detect, especially in the Andaman Sea, where some areas plunge to depths of over 14,500 feet (4,400 meters).

Chimaeras are also known as “ghost sharks” and “ratfish” due to their large, shiny eyes and slender bodies resembling rats. Some types of chimaera can reach lengths of up to 6.6 feet (2 meters).

A different male chimaera found dead in the Andaman Sea

During a deep-sea survey project in 2018, scientists stumbled upon the body of an immature male chimaera. This discovery occurred during a bottom trawl in the Andaman Sea at depths ranging from 2,533 to 2,543 feet (772 to 775 meters) beneath the surface.

The researchers distinguished it as a new species due to its massive head with a short snout and its large, oval eyes, which make up more than 32 percent of its total head length.

This newfound species belongs to the shortnose chimaera group, measuring 20 inches (51 centimeters) long with broad pectoral fins. Ebert suggests the creature’s feather-like frills may help in navigating rocky bottoms.

The large, shimmering green eyes of C. supapae help it navigate the dark waters of the deep sea. Its dark-brown skin lacks any noticeable patterns, and it has a dorsal spine on top of its head.

Moreover, this species was named supapae in honor of the late Supap Monkolprasit, a scientist from Thailand who dedicated her life to studying cartilaginous fishes.

The name Chimaera, referring to the genus, originates from Greek mythology, in which it represents a mythical creature with three heads: a lion’s head at the front, a goat’s head extending from its back, and a serpent’s tail ending with the head of a snake.

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