Prickly Dogfish

If a shark was crossed with a hedgehog

This beauty of a critter is the prickly dogfish.  A small deep-sea shark endemic to the continental shelves of New Zealand and Australia, it lives in the ocean’s Twilight Zone – a permanent dusk 200-1000m below the surface.

Collecting data on quirky creatures like these is important for measuring the Sub-Antarctic’s biodiversity, and the few times one has appeared in our deep-water surveys, it is a definite star of the show.  Its massive dorsal fins are like spiky sails, with its dermal denticles like tiny three-pronged teeth embedded in its skin.

If its appearance wasn’t bizarre (and awesome) enough, the prickly dogfish is a horrendously picky eater.  While its cousins overseas eat a nice varied diet (the voyage cooks would approve), NIWA scientist Brit Finucci discovered that the prickly dogfish only eats ghost shark egg cases.

Right: A prickly dogfish.

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Above: Long-nosed chimaera.

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Above: From left to right: BLAKE Ambassador Melanie Hayden, independent marine scientist Jim Roberts and voyage leader Pablo Escobar-Flores with a long-nosed chimaera.

Ghost sharks – also known as chimaeras or ratfish – are the deep-sea cousins of sharks and rays, and the unfortunate victims of the prickly dogfish include the Pacific spookfish and the brown and long-nosed chimaeras.  Their egg cases are like leathery envelopes, which contains the embryos.  The prickly dogfish punches a hole in the case and sucks out the embryo inside, and the presence of these egg cases in its stomach was detected by DNA analysis.

New Zealand’s bizarre endemic creatures extend beyond even flightless nocturnal parrots and the last living dinosaur.