A tiny and absolutely adorable species of shark with two little pockets has been caught for only the second time in history.
The Mollisquama sp – or pocket shark – was found in the holdings of NOAA's laboratory in Pascagoula. It had been collected from the deep sea about 190 miles from the Louisiana coast in 2010 during a mission to study sperm whale feeding.
It measures just 5.5 inches long and was a recently-born male. Mark Grace, from the NOAA and lead author of the new study published in the journal Zootaxa, noticed that the shark had an unhealed umbilical scar.
"Discovering him has us thinking about where mom and dad may be, and how they got to the Gulf," he said. "The only other known specimen was found very far away, off Peru, 36 years ago."
Study co-author Michael Doosey told Phys.org: "It's cute. It almost looks like a little whale."
A tissue sample allowed samples to place the specimen in the genus Mollisguama. Further studies showed the species are closely related to the kitefin and cookie cutter species and that it belongs to the shark family Dalatiidae.
Another feature of the shark was its distinctive orifice behind its pectoral fin – a little pocket that scientists do not know the function of.
"Both the holotype of M. parini and the Gulf of Mexico specimen possess the remarkable pocket gland with its large slit-like external opening located just above the pectoral fin," the authors wrote.
The function of the two little pockets, on its body next to its front fin, is not known.
The only other specimen was caught in the Gulf of Mexico. It was an adult female and measured about 16.5 inches.
"This record of such an unusual and extremely rare fish is exciting, but it's also an important reminder that we still have much to learn about the species that inhabit our oceans," Grace added.