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May Elasmobranch of the Month Ninja Lanternshark

Updated: Aug 10, 2022

Author: Linda Weiss

Ninja Lanternshark

(Etmopterus benchleyi)

Key Features/Appearance

The ninja lanternshark is a small species with maximum lengths of 515 mm (20.3inches) for females and 325 mm (12.8 inches) for males. Its entire body is black, excluding white lined eyes and mouth. It has bioluminescent photophores on its ventral (under) side. This shark’s snout is relatively short and conically shaped. Its fins are small and rounded. The first and second dorsal fins are either of equal size or the first dorsal is slightly smaller than the second. The upper lobe of the caudal fin is significantly larger than the lower lobe, almost appearing as a single-lobed fin. A unique characteristic of this shark species is that is has dense concentrations of dermal denticles surrounding its eyes and gill slits. The teeth in the upper jaw are small, straight and pointed, shaped similar to a tack. The teeth in the lower jaw are larger than the upper jaw. They have a narrow triangle shape with a curved point. The first row of the upper jaw contains 26-30 teeth. The first row of the lower jaw contains 30-36 teeth.

Photo courtesy of Vicky Vásquez

Habitat and Distribution

The Ninja lanternshark is a deep-water species ranging between 836–1443 m (2,743 - 4,374 ft.) They are found in the eastern Pacific Ocean from Nicaragua to Panama. The majority of collected specimens have been taken off the coast of Costa Rica.


The diet of the ninja lanternshark is unknown. It is hypothesized that it uses its ability of bioluminescence to attract smaller fish to prey upon.


Again, due to the recent discovery (2010) and limited research of the ninja lanternshark, biological information is minimal. In one examined specimen, 5 pups were seen, supporting that reproduction is viviparous. When born pups are born are less than 177 mm (7 inches) long.


The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species currently lists the Ninja Lanternshark as Least Concern with a stable population trend.


Due to the depth this species lives, they are not targeted by any fishing industries. Their natural predators are unknown at this time.

Learn more about this and other deep sea species on our webinar with Vicky Vasquez


Deep Sea News

Ocean Science Foundation

Planet Shark Divers

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species

Ebert, D.A., Concha, F., Herman, K. & Kyne, P.M. 2020. Etmopterus benchleyi. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2020: e.T144135467A144136436. Accessed on 15 May 2022.

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