Are there extraterrestrial fish hidden in the waters in Mexico? Not offence intended, this creature may look quite strange, but it actually belongs to quite a well-known species. This specimen was caught off the coast of Cabo on a fishing boat belonging to Pisces Sportfishing Fleet.
‘The client threw a hook with a bit of skipjack tuna on it into the winter when he caught something. About four minutes later, the strange creature made its way to the surface,’ said the company on their Facebook page. Rather impressive looking, the species was white with a pink back and had a strangely inflated belly.
‘I was really surprised, but what struck me the most were its eyes, so strange,’ said Jaime Randon, the boat’s captain. When getting it out of the water, he noticed that the animal had rough skin, several rows of tiny teeth and three pharyngeal slits on each side of its head. All these characteristics were enough to suggest that it could be a shark.
A type of catshark
The fisherman was apparently right. A specialist, Chuck Bangley from the University of South Carolina saw the images circulating on social media and quickly identified the specimen. According to him, it was a Cephaloscyllium ventriosum shark known in English as a ‘swell shark’.
This theory was then confirmed by another researcher, Dr. David Ebert from Moss Landing Marine Laboratories. This species of shark is part of the catshark family and is frequently spotted in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California going all the way down to the South of Mexico, sometimes even further down in South America.
One of the most striking indicators of this species was its inflated belly. In fact, these little sharks are known for swallowing large quantities of salt water when they’re threatened. This makes their bellies inflate to make them seem bigger and less vulnerable to predators.
Albino or leucistic?
‘The way that its belly swells up is a clear and obvious sign. Most sharks don’t do that,’ said Dr. David Ebert for Motherboard. The shape of its mouth and pectoral fins also match up. But the telltale sign is the colour of the fish.
Just like other catsharks, swell sharks generally have marks on their skin: small black marks that sharply contrast with its grey colour. The specimen that was caught however is entirely pink and white. Therefore, it could actually be an albino shark. A genetic condition that is produced due to a melanin deficit, the pigment responsible for the coloring of the skin.
According to Dr. David Ebert however, it is more possible that it suffers from leucismus. In cases of albinism, the deficit of melanin often causes the creature to have red eyes, but this wasn’t the case for the little shark. Leucismus is due to a deficit in the pigment cells and are mostly white but are able to produce a little pigment, usually in the eyes.
The rare shark was released
This could be the first time that an albino or leucistic shark like this has been spotted.
‘This particular shark is cool to see, but for lots of species, leucismus and albinism are abnormal,’ even detrimental, claimed Dr. Elbert. The white colour is a disability for species because it makes them more easily identifiable to their predators or prey.
Another characteristic of the specimen is intriguing. This shark only has three pharyngeal slits while other sharks normally have five or seven. According to Chuck Bangley, this could be explained by the fact that the slits in question are very small or close together. It is also possible that it’s due to a problem caused during its development.
One thing is for sure, this species is rare. And luckily, the fisherman quickly realized and decided to release it, thinking that it could be endangered. It was then spotted swimming away in the water. A welcome initiative that, we hope, allowed the shark to survive. However, it seems the stress linked with being caught actually led to the fish dying.
Check out the video above to see footage of the shark for yourself...