Deepwater species have ghostly white eyes

The devilish catshark, a deep-water species, has been discovered off the coast of Australia.
CSIRO Australian National Fish Collection

  • A new species called the catshark devil has been discovered off the coast of Australia.
  • The shark is the first of its kind, has white ghostly eyes and is likely an opportunistic hunter.
  • A researcher on the discovery told Insider that they tracked down 40-year-old egg sacs to identify the shark.

After 40 years of searching, researchers at CSIRO Australian National Fish Collection have finally located the mysterious creature that left unique egg sacs in the deep waters off the coast of the country, and discovered a new species in the process.

Enter: the devil catshark, or apristurus ovicorrugatus. Only one specimen of this young oceanic shark has ever been found, which is notable for its bright white eyes, smooth dark skin, and uniquely textured egg sac.

Fortunately, that specimen was a female, about 47 cm long, with a completely intact egg sac. It allowed the researchers to positively match the species to mysterious cysts that have plagued them for decades. Dr. Will White, the ANFC chief researcher who led the team that made the discovery, told Insider that they quickly realized they had found a new piece in the “jigsaw puzzle with 100 more pieces missing.”

The unique catshark egg sac.
CSIRO Australian National Fish Collection

White told Insider that the team worked backwards to identify the devilish catshark based on bags found off the Australian coast and cataloged 40 years ago by the National Fish Collection, tracing possible shark breeding sites until they caught a live specimen of the new strain.

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“This particular species has a black pupil, and then it has a bright white iris around it which stands out a lot to deepwater sharks, which usually have very dark eyes, dark green or almost black eyes,” White told Insider.

At first, White’s research group thought they had found a known species that fit a similar description that also had a white irises but decided that the catshark devil was genetically unique.

“It’s almost like this different evolutionary arm within this group of sharks — and we don’t really know why they have this white irises,” White said. “It could be something about attracting prey or something. We don’t really know.”

White said not much is known yet about this type of catshark. He noted, however, that it swims at slightly shallower depths than other sharks – about 1,000 meters deep, likely along ancient underwater coastlines. Like other cats, White expects to be an opportunistic hunter, preying on various crustaceans and fish as they pass by.

Overall, catsharks are among the smaller species of shark, averaging less than two and a half feet in length, according to TV programIt is found in warm ocean waters. They have between 40 and 110 rows of spiny teeth, and as slow-moving carnivores, they tend to feed on small fish and invertebrates such as octopuses and squid.

A catshark’s unique egg sac attached to a piece of coral.
CSIRO Australian National Fish Collection

While the shark’s Latin name is a tribute to its corrugated egg sac, its colloquial name refers to its dark skin and haunting eyes—the perfect camouflage for sneaking up on unsuspecting prey in deep, dark waters.

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“In deeper waters, it would look like this ghost-like thing swimming really quietly in the water,” White told Insider. “I can imagine, if you were a smaller prey there, you would look like a demon coming to take you.”

The identification of the catshark devil is a landmark discovery for marine taxonomists. White said the discovery highlights how little is known about ocean biodiversity.

“You know, sharks and rays, they’re large animals compared to most other groups, and a lot of people assume we know everything about all sharks and rays, for example, when we’re still finding new species every year,” White said. “And if you follow that down the chain from there, once you get to smaller fish, there’s a lot of them. And then once you start looking at invertebrates and crustaceans and molluscs — there’s a lot we don’t understand.”

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