How the ‘Ninja Lanternshark’ Got Its Name

Four children and a shark researcher spoke in a Google Hangout. The rest is taxonomic history.


The newly discovered Ninja Lanternshark sounds like it was named by children. That’s because it was.

Shark researcher Vicky Vásquez spent a year pouring over minute anatomical details, making tedious measurements, and comparing her specimens to others. In the end, she was sure she’d found a species of shark never previously described.  

The newcomer needed a name. So Vásquez gathered an online brain trust of four younger cousins, aged 8 to 14, for a virtual family reunion — a meeting that would go down in taxonomic history.

“They have all grown up being really interested in animals, especially sharks, so I knew if I gave them this opportunity they would be really excited,” Vásquez told Foreign Policy. “We used a Google Hangout to have the conversation about what we wanted to name the shark and why.”

They settled on “Super Ninja Shark.” Vásquez helped them scale that back to a name she knew could stick (Latin scientific names are assigned according to a formal process; common names are suggestions the world usually ends up following): “Ninja Lanternshark.” The stealthy hunter glows faintly in the depths, which serves to cloak it amid the dim sunlight that filters down.

Over 30 lanternsharks, the common name for dogfish sharks of the genus Etmopterus, have been identified already. But the Ninja is the first found off the coast of Central America. Vásquez identified the species among specimens already collected but not yet examined carefully. She published her findings in the Journal of the Ocean Science Foundation and on Twitter:

The scientific name, Etmopterus benchleyi, honors Jaws author Peter Benchley, who felt bad for inadvertently giving sharks a bad rap and dedicated himself to raising awareness about the animals. “His legacy continues through the Benchley Awards, which is put on by the Blue Frontier Campaign,” Vásquez said. “But I’m pretty sure the awards get less attention than Jaws did.

Vásquez said she planned to post a recording of the naming session to her lab’s website in the next few days.

Photo courtesy of Vicky Vásquez/Douglas Long/Ross Robertson

Benjamin Soloway is an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @bsoloway

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