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Watch Rare Footage of the Mysterious Ghost Shark Gliding Through the Deep

Researchers spotted the grey-blue creature off the coast of California—far from its usual haunts in the Southern hemisphere

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The video of a bizarre-looking ghostly pale deep-sea creature has been making waves across the internet this weekend. The pointy-nosed blue chimaera, also known as the ghost shark, was lurking just over a mile below the ocean surface off the coast of central California when it was caught on camera in a new video released by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, Jason Bittel reports for National Geographic. Though these creatures (Hydrolagus trolli) are common in the deep waters near Australia, New Zealand and New Caledonia, according to a press release, this was the first sighting of this particular species in the Northern Hemisphere.

Similar to its namesake (the mythological goat-lion-serpent hybrid), the pointy-nosed chimaera sports an odd mash-up of features. Like sharks, the chimaera's body isn’t supported by bones, but a skeleton of stiff but flexible cartilage. But unlike sharks, they have tooth plates in lieu of teeth and open channels running around their heads, The Guardian reports. Though these channels help them sense water movement—and their next meal—they also give the creatures a Frankenstein's monster-esque appearance. (Having a retractable penis atop their head doesn't help dispel the image.)

Chimaeras split from sharks and rays roughly 300 million years, reports Bittel. And are surprisingly widespread today, with 38 known species worldwide. But there is still much to learn about the curious creatures.

This particular chimaera was captured on video from a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) on an 2009 expedition. At the time, the researchers weren’t quite sure what they were looking at. The ghost shark gliding through the screen differed from the two endemic to this region.

They consulted three different chimaera experts who came to the conclusion that the creature is likely the pointy-nosed blue chimaera. They recently published their results in the journal of Marine Biodiversity Records.

“Normally, people probably wouldn’t have been looking around in this area, so it’s a little bit of dumb luck,” Dave Ebert, program director for the Pacific Shark Research Center at Moss Landing Marine Laboratories and one of the experts who reviewed the video, tells Bittel.

It’s also possible that the ranges of these denizens of the deep are much larger than previously thought, according to the press release. So the appearance of the ghost shark so far from previously documented habitats is not necessarily surprising.

“I suspect many species are wide-ranging—we just don't have the data,” Dominique Didier, a marine biologist at Millersville University, tells Bittel.

Though the creature’s identification is not airtight without DNA confirmation, Bittel writes, the video is the first step to learning more about these enigmatic creatures that silently glide through the ocean’s depths.

About Maya Wei-Haas
Maya Wei-Haas

Maya Wei-Haas is the assistant editor for science and innovation at Smithsonian.com. Her work has appeared on National Geographic and AGU's Eos and Plainspoken Scientist.

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