Ever wondered what is the smallest shark in the world? When most people think of sharks, they imagine huge, sharp-toothed beasts who roam the darkest depths of the seas. That is, until you meet the Dwarf Lantern Shark! The cutest little shark you’ll ever see…
What Is The Smallest Shark? | The Dwarf Lantern Shark
The smallest shark, the dwarf lantern shark (Etmopterus perryi), is as small as a human hand. The specimen shown below was discovered in 1985 in the Caribbean off the coast of Colombia at a depth of 290 metres. This shark is rarely seen and very little is known about it, as it has been observed just a few times at the northern tip of South America.
The Dwarf Lantern Shark | Description
The Dwarf Lantern has light emitting organs on its belly and intestines, called photophores. These help him camouflage himself when he feeds in shallow water, as the light from his belly mixes with the incoming sunlight. He also has rather large eyes compared to other sharks, which help him see in the dark waters of the ocean. In the dark water, the light attracts smaller animals to their prey.
The Dwarf Lantern Shark reaches a known maximum length of just 20 cm (7.8 inches). It is known to occur in the upper continental slopes of Colombia and Venezuela at a depth of 283-439 metres. The Dwarf Lantern is identified by its small size at maturity, its flattened head pattern and its black ventral markings and the middle dorsal line. It is a bathypelagic species that that has been spotted around the coasts of Barranquilla, Santa Marta, the Guajira Peninsula, Los Testigos Island and Grenada.
The upper teeth of adult males have a single tip surrounded by two pairs of small canines, while the upper teeth of females are more robust and have a pair of lateral canines flanked by a single canine. The lower teeth have a single oblique tip, but their bases are interlocked to form a continuous cutting surface. There are 25 to 32 teeth in a row in the upper jaw and 30 to 34 rows in the lower jaw.
The torso is short and divided in two, with a large dorsal fin, which carries a fluted spine in front. There are five pairs of gills, each slightly smaller than half as long. The edges of the mouth and gill arches are scattered between the sparse papillae.
The first dorsal fin comes from the rear edge of the pectoral fin. The second dorsal fin is the area between the first and second fins and is slightly larger than the pectoral fin, and the pelvic fin originated at the end of its base. The tail fin has a lower and moderate lower lobe and a ventral notch at the tip of the upper lobe. The skin is covered from the lips to the tips of the fins in a random pattern with thin, needle-like skin markings. There is also an anal fin, which is a bit longer.
The Dwarf Lantern Shark is known to reach maturity at a very small size, with the smallest living shark being a male at 16-17.5 cm. The smallest female was around 15.5 cm and with the longest known up to 20 cm. The largest known individual Dwarf Lantern Shark is 21.2 cm long.
The skin is covered with thin, needle-like skin markings. Although the shark is dark brown, there is a striking and distinctive pattern of black marks on its ventral surface, with a constantly broken fine black line in the middle of the shark. Some of the black markings consist of light-generating photophores, while others may consist of pigments containing chromatophores.
Dwarf Lantern Sharks are not in major commercial fishery, but are at risk of mortality through bycatch, and the extent of the impact of human activities on their population is unknown. As with other deep-sea chondrichthyan species, more information is needed on the biology and ecology.