What Ninjas, Sharks, And Beer Have In Common

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Meet the New “Ninja Lanternshark,” a deep sea shark that lives in the central Pacific Ocean.Photo courtesy of Vicky Vásquez

The discovery of a new animal is exciting for all involved. But, discovering a new species isn’t always a tale of adventure and remote travels. In fact, many specimens are from earlier expeditions stored at local museums and waiting to be described. In 2015, the shark world was introduced to its newest member, the ninja lanternshark (Etmopterus benchleyi) which made waves in the media not only for its unique name but for being the only Etmopterus (lanternshark) species presently known to reside in the Pacific coast waters off Central America. And in 2018, it is making headlines again for a different reason: beer.

The Pacific Shark Research Center (PSRC) of Moss Landing Marine Laboratories, which is famous for Dr. David Ebert and his “Lost Sharks,” those with little public interest or scientific attention. Discovery Channel’s Shark Week shed light on some of these sharks during the highly popular
“Alien Sharks” shows, in which graduate student
Victoria Elena Vásquez herself was on one of the episodes before discovering the new lanternshark species. Better known as Vicky, she was particularly interested in the Pacific Ocean region along Central America due to it being one of the most poorly understood locations in the world for sharks and their relatives, collectively known as Chondrichthyans.
Scientifically speaking, the importance of deep-sea sharks is not well understood. What we do know points out that these sharks operate at higher levels on the food web and are apex predator of their dark worlds. “Discoveries, such as the ninja lanternshark, are important because we know very little about the deep-sea yet commercial ventures have already begun to explore and harvest these habitats. Consequently, there is no clear understanding of how these industries impact the environment.” says 
Vásquez
.

Eight ninja lanternshark specimens were collected in this region during an earlier expedition of the Spanish research ship Miguel Oliver by D. Ross Robertson, a researcher at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. Like many deep-sea sharks, these are black to better blend with their dark surroundings. Most lanternsharks have bioluminescent organs, called photophores, that glow a pale green color in the inky waters. This neat adaption has a variety of uses – from communication to fooling predators to attracting food – and yet this shark had very little glow-in-the-dark organs. Only white markings around the eyes and mouth can give away this shark before it chomps down on its prey, and by then it is too late.

Vicky Vásquez looking at a goblin shark in a tank on Shark Week.Vicky Vásquez Twitter

More fun discovering an actual new animal may be naming it not once but twice- a scientific name and a common name. The scientific name was chosen in honor of the marine conservation work
Jaws author Peter Benchley and his wife did after his famous book. “The attention of
Jaws is hard to ignore, so we thought it was fitting to use some of that attention upon lesser shark species.”
Vásquez says. And while the scientific name captured the attention of scientists, it was the common name that the public gravitated to. In an attempt to prevent the new species from being forgotten,
she wanted a name that would really stick with people and so enlisted some help: her family. Her cousins (8-12 years old at the time) were taught about this new species and came up with a name together: the ninja lanternshark. The discovery went viral. “I think this discovery is a big deal because it proves that it is possible to engage the public on a large scale about less charismatic species. (…) I’m proud that my family and I made sure no one was going to forget about this little shark.”

The maximum length of the species overall is 515 millimetres (20.3 in) but don’t underestimate this little shark as it may soon be making headlines yet again thanks to an unusual setting: a pub.
Ballast Point Brewery likes to look for marine themes when toying around with new brew recipes. While brewing a Japanese lager, they came across the ninja lanternshark and put a limited-edition beer on tap last year!
Not knowing that Vásquez was a San Diego native, they were excited when she met up with a representative and invited her to brew the batch for this year. The brew process for this beer was scheduled specifically for California Academy of Science’s Sharktoberfest, held in San Francisco in early October. This beer, with a taste and color like Sapporo, and will be in the area until it runs out! The remainder will stay in San Diego at Ballast Point’s Little Italy location.

Vásquez hopes the unconventional collaboration will make people want to learn more about the namesake of the beer, allowing them to become aware of deep-sea sharks in general. “These unconventional collaborations can often reach audiences that are not always targeted for science outreach and the approach can make the learning process feel effortless. I hope it will encourage more businesses to partner with scientists.”

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