Is there such a thing as a cute shark? A photo of a rare pocket shark in October 2013 in Belle Chasse, La., taken out of the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, and discovered in a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration freezer and identified as the rare species in 2013 (AP photos)
Is there such a thing as a cute shark?

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Think Jaws meets a kangaroo, with maybe a touch of cute kitten and you've got the aptly named pocket shark. It is the newest and rarest species found off the U.S. coast.

Surprised scientists found a tiny, young version of the extraordinarily rare shark that was fished out of the deep Gulf of Mexico in 2010 with lots of other creatures in a government research trip. The dead specimen spent more than three years in a giant freezer waiting to be identified.

It turned out to be only the second of its species ever seen. The first pocket shark was found 36 years ago in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Peru. It has been sitting in a Russian museum since.

This pocket shark was a male, maybe a few weeks old, about 5.5 inches long. Strangely, this type of shark has two pockets next to its front fins. The fins' purpose is not known. It's not quite like a kangaroo, which uses its pouch to carry young, but few species have pockets this large about 4 percent of the shark's body.

"It's cute," said Tulane University biologist Michael Doosey. He co-authored a study in a zoological journal identifying the shark. "It almost looks like a little whale."

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration fisheries biologist Mark Grace has spent more than 30 years going through bags upon bags of fish to identify them. It took him more than three years to get near the end of the freezer, when he plopped a bag on the table and let it thaw.

"I wasn't really sure what it was," Grace said. "That pocket over on the pectoral fin, I had never seen anything like that on a shark."

It's a small miracle that the shark was not thrown away. A couple of times, the lab with the freezer lost power.

Once identified, the shark was shipped to New York and France for high-tech examinations that wouldn't puncture the specimen.

The shark also has unusual belly patches not seen in most sharks. The only other pocket shark was a female adult about 17 inches long; it is believed that adult females may be larger than males.

But the truly strange thing about this species is its twin pockets. While no one knows what they are for, Grace and Doosey speculated that they may secrete some kind of glowing fluid or pheromones.

The Gulf specimen has umbilical scars, showing he's probably a few weeks old, Grace said. Because of that, they think he was born in the Gulf. He was captured in February 2010 by the ship Pisces. The vessel was about 190 miles off the Louisiana coast.

"There's others" out there, Grace said. "We just haven't caught them yet."

Critical thinking challenge: Why was the shark kept frozen?

Assigned 11 times

  • Steve0620-yyca
    9/29/2015 - 09:28 p.m.

    I think that this shark opened a new range of discovery for the scientists. They have discovered a new species and are examining it. I think that this is an interesting shark. It also has pockets that are unusual and a little strange. I hope that the scientists discover more and more species and take care of them well.

  • Eugene0808-YYCA
    10/01/2015 - 09:04 p.m.

    This looks like a tiny version of a sperm whale because of its squarish head. However, this is a shark. No one really knows what the purpose of the pockets in its pectoral fins are. Scientists think that it may secrete a pheromone or glowing fluid, or carry offspring.
    Critical thinking challenge: Why was the shark kept frozen?
    Answer: The shark was kept frozen because it was to preserve the body.

  • Josephb-smi1
    12/04/2017 - 11:54 a.m.

    that shark is not so cute

  • Michaelc-smi1
    12/04/2017 - 12:06 p.m.

    I think they put the shark in the ice to perserve it so they can use the shark at a later date.

  • Sethl-smi1
    12/04/2017 - 01:14 p.m.

    i would love to see that shark in real life

  • Haydenl-smi1
    12/05/2017 - 11:37 a.m.

    i think it is a cool thing that they found a new spesheas of shark ,but the only ones they have discovered are dead and their might not be many of those tpy of sharks out there ,so i think they should be a endangered spesheas and i do think that we should learn more about them but it might just put them in more danger of becoming another extinct animal ,and i am not just saying this because my favorite aquatic animal is a shark ,but we should learn more about them but in the habitat they live in should be like a no fishing zone ,or no boat zone ,or even a no swimming zone but i am not just going to sit here and watch there spesheas die.

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