Incredible footage shows a tiny shark embryo wiggling around inside its transparent egg case

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An American research submarine has captured incredible footage showing a tiny shark embryo wiggling around inside its transparent egg case.

Scientists believe the strange creature is a catshark in the genus scyliorhinus which is known for laying eggs on corals and sponges. 

Scientists aboard the Okeanos Explorer filmed the remarkable footage near an island off the west coast of Puerto Rico, in the Caribbean as part of their work with the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The video, filmed by the Explorer’s remote submarine, initially shows what appears to be a bare coral substrate reaching out into the ocean like a long hair from the sea bed.

But as the camera zooms in, the egg case comes into focus, showing a yolk sac and a baby shark moving back and forth in the tubular case attached to the coral.

‘The shark moves backwards and forwards to bring in oxygenated seawater through small slits along the edge of the egg cases and it will also open and close its mouth to pump water over the gills,’ said Cat Gordon, a conservation officer at the UK-based Shark Trust who estimated the embryo to be about four or five months old.

Ms Gordon said it was likely to be a catshark, the largest shark family with at least 15 genera and over 100 species.

Their common name, catsharks, likely derives from their elongated, cat-like eyes, although their scientific name is based on the Greek words, ‘Scylla,’ meaning ‘a shark,’ and ‘rhinos,’ meaning ‘nose.’ 

Members of this family tend to be small, usually less than three feet (one metre) long, and are harmless to humans. 

Most catsharks live in seas above the upper continental slope, a location that makes it difficult to observe these sharks and collect specimens. 

Scientists believe the strange creature is a catshark in the genus scyliorhinus which is known for laying eggs on corals and sponges

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WHAT IS A CAT SHARK?

The family Scyliorhinidae is the largest shark family, with at least 15 genera and over 100 species.

Their common name, catsharks, likely derives from their elongated, cat-like eyes, although their scientific name is based on the Greek words, ‘Scylla,’ meaning ‘a shark,’ and ‘rhinos,’ meaning ‘nose.’ 

Some members of Scyliorhinidae are also commonly known as dogfish. 

Members of this family tend to be small, usually less than three feet (one metre) long, and are harmless to humans. 

Most catsharks live in seas above the upper continental slope, a location that makes it difficult to observe these sharks and collect specimens. 

As such, more information about catsharks remains to be discovered.

Most catsharks are small and eggcases can often take between five and nine months to hatch, she added.

‘The embryo will continue to absorb the yolk sac as it develops, so similar to a bird’s egg, and then when fully developed it will push through the top of the eggcase and emerge as a perfectly formed miniature version of the adult’, said Ms Gordon.

‘Sharks don’t have any parental care so it will have to fend for itself straight away,’ she added.

The empty eggcases, nicknamed mermaids’ purses, can often be found on beaches around the UK.

‘We’ve got a citizen science project called the Great Eggcase Hunt which encourages members of the public to get out on the beach and search for empty eggcases,’ said Ms Gordon.

‘We’ve had over 200,000 records submitted from all around the world now, but sadly never from the Caribbean.’


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