Photo credit: J Mallefet / UC Louvain / FNRS
Scientists from Belgium and New Zealand have discovered that the kitefin shark glows in the dark, thanks to bioluminescent sites along its belly, sides, back and dorsal fins. The team collected samples from the Chatham Rise area of seabed east of New Zealand. It’s currently the largest known bioluminescent vertebrate and since it doesn’t have any natural predators, the bioluminescence can be used to “counter-illuminate” itself against weak sunlight filtering from above to hunt for prey.
It dwells in the ocean’s “twilight zone,” which ranges between 200 and 1000 meters (3,200 feet) below sea level, where solar light does not penetrate and is too weak to initiate photosynthesis. Scientists say this slow-moving shark uses its natural glow to light up the ocean floor while it hunts for food, or to conceal itself while it approaches prey.
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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,” said the paper.