Mysterious egg on ocean floor a cat­shark, NOAA says

Daily Press (Sunday) - - Nation & World - By Mark Price The Char­lotte Ob­server

CHAR­LOTTE, N.C. — A mysterious “translu­cent egg case” found this month off an un­in­hab­ited is­land near Puerto Rico has been iden­ti­fied by NOAA ex­plor­ers as some­thing few sci­en­tists had seen.

“Upon zoom­ing in on this egg case,” says a NOAA mis­sion re­port, “we were able to clearly see the em­bryo ac­tively swim­ming within the case.”

This em­bryo was a “very rare sight­ing” of a de­vel­op­ing cat­shark, a lit­tle un­der­stood species of shark named for their bugged-out — and haunt­ing — fe­line eyes.

Cat­sharks are “shy and noc­tur­nal and of­ten hide in crevices,” re­ports Na­tional Geo­graphic.

And they’re small, typ­i­cally grow­ing about 20 inches in length in the ocean off Puerto Rico, NOAA says.

“Most cat­sharks live in seas above the up­per con­ti­nen­tal slope, a lo­ca­tion that makes it dif­fi­cult to ob­serve these sharks and col­lect spec­i­mens. There­fore, much in­for­ma­tion about cat­sharks re­mains to be dis­cov­ered,” An­i­malDiver­sity.org re­ports.

They are not con­sid­ered a dan­ger to hu­mans, de­spite hav­ing a mouth full of teeth, ac­cord­ing to the Flor­ida Mu­seum of Nat­u­ral His­tory.

The egg cas­ing was ob­served Nov. 15 dur­ing a NOAA ex­plo­ration off “un­known and poorly un­der­stood deep­wa­ter ar­eas” near Puerto Rico and the U.S. Vir­gin Is­lands. The ex­pe­di­tion be­gan Oct. 30 and ended last week.

NOAA sci­en­tists used a rov­ing cam­era to see the egg, which was at­tached to a co­ral branch more than 820 feet down, off moun­tain­ous Desecheo Is­land. The is­land, 13 miles off Puerto Rico, re­mains un­in­hab­ited by fed­eral law “due to un­ex­ploded mil­i­tary or­di­nance,” ac­cord­ing to Is­land­sofPuer­toRico.com.

The ocean floor in the area is full of “over­hangs, crevices and large boul­der­like fea­tures,” where all types of sea life can eas­ily hide, said the NOAA re­port.

Ex­plor­ers re­ported see­ing spot­ted cat­sharks mul­ti­ple times dur­ing the ex­pe­di­tion, some at depths of more than 1,500 feet. This species of cat­shark is typ­i­cally seen at depths of 360 feet, but has been spot­ted as low as 1,300, ac­cord­ing to the Flor­ida Mu­seum of Nat­u­ral His­tory.

That would make the one spot­ted at 1,500 a lit­tle deeper than the norm.

NOAA

The egg cas­ing was ob­served near Puerto Rico.

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