- Scientific name: Etmopterus spinax
- Size: Up to 2ft in length
- UK minimum size: N/a
- UK shore caught record: N/a
- IUCN status: LC (Least Concern) overall but NT (Near Threatened) in European waters.
- Distribution: Found in Rockall Trough and Faroe-Shetland Channel, but also elsewhere around the British Isles where the water is deep enough. Also found in deep waters throughout Europe and along the north African coast.
- Feeds on: Small fish, squid, prawns and crustaceans
- Description: Small shark species. Lower half of the body is black in colour, with the rest being grey to brown with the fins being light grey/white. Tail is fairly long and first dorsal fin is small with second being higher and longer. A sharp spine is located in front of both dorsal fins. No anal fin is present and the pectoral fins are well developed. Skin is very rough to the touch. Eyes are large and mouth is full of small sharp teeth.
The velvet belly lanternshark is a small species which lives in very deep water. While it can be found at depths of several hundred metres it is much more common at around 1000 metres, and can be found substantially deeper than this. This species has little commercial value but it high levels of bycatch have seen its numbers reduced in European waters.
The velvet belly lanternshark can be found throughout the north east Atlantic from the waters of Iceland and Norway (although it is absent from much of the Baltic Sea) all of the way through European waters and along the west coast of Africa all of the way down to South Africa. It is also found in the Mediterranean Sea, although only in limited numbers in the Black Sea.
Life Cycle and Behaviour
Its name comes from the fact that its belly is a dark colour (whereas most other species have a paler underside) and that this species displays a trait known as bioluminescence – the ability to produce light from cells in the skin. Light producing cells are located in the lower half of its body and along the ridges of its dorsal fins. The velvet belly lanternshark is thought to use this ability to light up cells on its body to deter predators and confuse prey. There is a BBC article on the light producing abilities of the lanternshark available by clicking here. Young lanternsharks are thought to feed on krill and very small crustaceans, although as they get older they will begin to hunt prawns, larger crustaceans and small fish and squid, although the size of the prey that this species will hunt is limited by the fact that the velvet belly lanternshark rarely grows longer than 60cm/2ft itself.
The velvet belly lanternshark is not valuable commercially and is not targeted by commercial fishing vessels. However, it may be inadvertently caught as bycatch by deep sea trawlers or caught on long-lines which have been set for other species. While a small proportion of velvet belly lanternshark bycatch may be retained to be processed into fishmeal the vast majority will be thrown back into the sea dead.
While the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) classes the velvet belly lanternshark as a species of Least Concern overall a separate regional assessment has classed this species as one which is Near Threatened in European waters. Unlike many deep sea fish the velvet belly lanternshark can produce relatively early at age four to six years, meaning that this species may be in with a better chance of recovery than other deep-sea species which have had their numbers reduced by commercial fishing.