So you’ve probably already heard about it a billion times over, but yes, a team of researchers from the Pacific Shark Research Center and the California Academy of Sciences have identified a new ghost shark, publishing their findings in the September issue of Zootaxa. Named Hydrolagus melanophasma, (Hydrolagus the Latin term for ‘water rabbit’ and melanophasma the Latin term for ‘black ghost’) this Eastern Pacific black ghost shark had actually already been discovered as far back as 1947, as the preserved specimens kept at the Scripps Oceanographic Institute would indicate, but it wasn’t until a live individual was filmed off the coast of Southern California using the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute ROV and compared to the museum specimens that the researchers realised the species had never been formerly identified.
This ghost shark, (which is actually not a shark but a cartilaginous type of fish called a chimaera, that as a group branched off from the shark lineage around 400 million years ago) has been generating a lot of attention because of its unique appearance and curious appendages. As is characteristic to male chimaeras, the large, blackish-purple Hydrolagus melanophasma has what scientists speculate are specific types of sex organs, or ‘tenacula,’ sprouting from its forehead, near its pelvis, and in front of its pelvic fins, which essentially look like little clubs covered with spikes. But while it has been suggested that these organs are used by the chimaera to assist with mating, their function is actually quite different from that of the penis, in that they are probably used by the male to grip on to the female, the pelvic tenacula acting as a funnel for the sperm as it is transferred to the female.
So of course while this whole “sex organ in the face” thing is pretty fascinating, I’m not so sure it’s particularly appropriate or sensitive to the Hydrolagus melanophasma’s feelings to be calling it “freaky” and “bizarre” all the time and making jokes of a sexual nature at his expense, especially since we’ve really only just met. And besides, I’m willing to bet that the Hydrolagus melanophasma has already had his fair share of ridicule, having grown up around a whole lot of sea creatures who don’t have sex organs in their faces, because, you know, kids can be pretty cruel about that kind of stuff.
It probably started with a young Hydrolagus melanophasma having an awesome time playing Brandings or something in front of the spiny dogfish’s cave with a bunch of other primary school sea creatures. Then just when the umbrella crab is about to peg a rather large anemone kinda hard at him, the Hydrolagus melanophasma’s sex organ will accidentally start clasping idly at nothing in particular and the umbrella crab will be all, “Eww! Hydrolagus melanophasma has aliens coming out of his face! RUN!!” And poor Hydrolagus melanophasma will be super-embarrassed and confused, and will try hiding with a couple of wolf eels behind a sunken oil drum before getting squealed at and shoved away, because of his “gross alien germs,” and such.
So the Hydrolagus melanophasma will go home to ask his parents if he really does have aliens coming out of his face, and Mum and Dad Hydrolagus melanophasma will briefly whisper something to each other, coming to the conclusion that he’s probably old enough to have “The Talk.” So they’ll sit him down after dinner, mention something about genitals and love, and then inexplicably start blowing whatever the fish version of a condom is up like a balloon. The young Hydrolagus melanophasma will ask what that was supposed to teach him about responsible reproduction, but his dad will tell him not to be smart and The Talk’s over so go watch some cartoons or something.
But soon enough the kids at school will also work out what his face aliens actually are, and this will unfortunately coincide with the exact moment that they discover the joy of the “comeback phrase.” The Hydrolagus melanophasma would be in the canteen line quietly discussing an upcoming chemistry exam with one of the sleeper sharks in his class, and how that video of atoms making out on the dance floor at a disco probably wasn’t as much help as it should have been because instead of learning anything important he spent the whole time wondering how the cartoon was going to successfully carry the metaphor all the way to covalent bonding if the atoms didn’t actually have any genitals, when a heckler from the hungry throng will be all, “Your FACE is a genital!!” And much to the Hydrolagus melanophasma’s mortification, the rest of the sea creatures in the queue will burst into fits of cruel laughter and somebody else will add, “That’s what she said!!” and “I’ll show YOU my genitals!!”
And the Hydrolagus melanophasma will be all, “Whatever, dickheads,” but this will only make the raucous a billion times worse as everyone struggles for enough breath to be the first to manage a spirited, “I know you are, but what am I?!”
The increasingly upset and frustrated Hydrolagus melanophasma will at this stage probably lose it, and start informing everyone that it’s not even a penis, it’s just a clasper, but he won’t make it much further than that before someone cuts in with another, “That’s what she said!!”
And the first thing we all do when we find him is call him a freak. Nice one, guys. Way to make a positive first impression. Jesus.