Weird Wednesdays: Giving up the Ghost Shark

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The sea is full of ghosts. No, I’m not talking about the Flying Dutchman type, nor the spectre of Jack Dawson floating about the remains of the Titanic bemoaning his lack of an Oscar. Nah, I’m talking real-life, ghostly grey creatures, with gills, flippers, wings and a retractable sex organ on their heads.

The beastie I’m talking about isn’t an undead, voyeuristic sea-unicorn. It belongs to a freakish order of cartilaginous fish found at the bottom of the ocean called Chimaeriformes, closely related to sharks and more camera-shy than Enya. I’m talking about the ghost shark.

The ghost shark, also known as the elephant shark and the silver trumpeter, along with its family members the rabbitfish, ratfish and spookfish, exist about 8,000 feet below sea level around the Continental shelf of Australia and other temperate waters. They’re closely descended from the ancestors of the modern-day shark. While they have gills and fins, they don’t have the nasty teeth of a great white; instead, they posses a set of bony plates that grow throughout their lifetime, and stick out of their mouths like rabbit’s teeth.

The diet of a ghost shark is varied and pescetarian. Using their elephant trunk-like snout, they’ll root around the bottom of the ocean, seeking out clams and crustaceans by detecting the weak electrical impulses they give out. They use their bony plates to crunch through the shells of their prey and get to the tasty, tender meat within.

Speaking of protrusions: The ghost shark is pretty weird lookin’, which is why it has the word ‘chimera’ in its name. Instead of having a lion’s head, serpent tail, etc. they have a large head, a tapered body and a rat-like tail. Their eyes are large and anime-esque, perfect for seeing at the bottom of the ocean floor, and some species possess a venomous spine on their dorsal fin for protection, Oh, and the males have three grasping appendages for the purpose of sex.

Y’see, when the time comes in a ghost shark’s life to make nookie in the springtime, an enterprising male will set out to find a female. After approaching one in dive bar, the male will pull close to the female, embracing her passionately using the copulatory claspers located in his pelvic area, and by guiding the barbed, cartilaginous sexual grasper on his head to the appropriate nook on the female’s forehead, the male is able to fertilize the female’s eggs. Makes going to Ted’s on Nickel Night seem a lot more tame, hmm?

The female will then deposit her eggs into a muddy seabed and leave, musing as to what she will watch on Netflix. The eggs hatch after eight months releasing dozens of baby ghost sharks into the wild, ready to start to cycle anew.

Like I said before, the deep-sea ghost shark has been pretty elusive to scientists. While the Ngai Tahu Maori tribe in New Zealand catch the silver trumpeter variety for traditional meals, other species have stuck to the deep. Only recently in 2016 was a video of the abyssal ghost shark, which dwells over 3,000 feet below sea level, captured by researchers.

If you have a moment, give it a watch. While the ghost shark isn’t as horrifying as some of the other sea creatures I’ve covered I think we can all agreed that having a copulatory organ on your forehead is a little odd, to say the least.

Don’t ghost each other after mating, kids. And, of course, stay weird.


Marlese Lessing is the news editor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at marlese.lessing@uconn.edu. She tweets @marlese_lessing.

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