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Frilled shark. Image credit: Getty

6 Bizarre Sharks That Live in the Deep Ocean

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Frilled shark. Image credit: Getty

Whether or not they deserve their notorious reputation, sharks are a common source of fear. But beachgoers shouldn’t worry about coming face-to-face with these spooky specimens—they all live at least 1000 feet below the ocean’s surface. From ghost sharks to goblin sharks, we’re here to shed light on the mysterious lives of these deep sea dwellers.

1. GREENLAND SHARK

The first part of the Greenland shark’s scientific name, Somniosus microcephalus, means “sleep,” a nod to its sluggish lifestyle. The second largest predatory shark in the ocean moves at a glacial pace of one mile per hour. The drowsy name also makes sense in the context of the effect the shark has on those who eat it. Its flesh contains the toxic substance trimethylamine oxide, and ingesting it can cause vomiting, diarrhea, convulsions, and the appearance of drunkenness (that’s why native Greenlanders call someone who’s had too much to drink “shark-sick”). The sharks are also capable of having abnormally long lives. In 2016, researchers found a specimen that had been cruising deep beneath the Arctic for the past 392 years.

2. GOBLIN SHARK

The goblin shark isn’t known for its dazzling good looks. Its defining feature is a jagged mouth of teeth that becomes even more pronounced when it launches forward from the skull to seize prey. Fortunately for anyone disturbed by its appearance, the goblin shark occupies depths up to 4265 feet where looks aren’t a priority.

A much bigger item on the species’s evolutionary agenda is finding sustenance. Food is hard to come by that far below the surface, so the species adapted by developing a relatively large mouth for trapping squid, fish, and crustaceans that pass by. They’ve long been known to Japanese fishermen (who originally named it tengu-zame after a long-nosed goblin from folktales), but much about these sharks still remains mysterious to scientists.

3. DEMON CATSHARK

Daniel Moore via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 3.0

There are at least 32 species of demon catshark including the white ghost catshark, the smalleye catshark, and the Iceland catshark (above), but scientists still know little about their lives at the bottom of the Northeast Atlantic. The slow-moving creatures grow up to 2 feet long and feed on squid and crustaceans as far as 7000 feet beneath the sea. Their flat heads and gleaming, slanted eyes earned them their demonic name. Another distinctive feature of the Apristurus genus are the two spineless dorsal fins poking up from the back of the body [PDF].

4. SWELL SHARK

Not much light reaches the water 1640 feet beneath the ocean’s surface, but swell sharks have developed a unique way to catch each other’s eyes. Their skin absorbs what little blue light there is at the bottom of the sea and transforms it into brilliant green biofluorescent light. Swell sharks have a photoreceptor in their eyes that lets them detect the glow, whereas humans cannot.

A couple of years ago, a team of researchers found their way around this by building a camera with a blue light-blocking yellow filter. This allowed them to explore underwater environments with “shark vision.” Scientists aren’t entirely sure what function the biofluorescence serves, but they suspect it’s used as a form of communication between sharks. Swell sharks have a different super power for dealing with enemies: When threatened, they suck in large gulps of water, swelling up to twice their size (hence the name).

5. COOKIE CUTTER SHARK

Jennifer Strotman via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

This shark got its cutesy name from a rather gruesome behavior: When feeding, the 16- to 22-inch predators latch onto prey with suction cup lips and rotate to carve out medallions of meat. The wounds they leave behind are more scoop-like than cookie-shaped, and are inflicted on larger animals like marlin, tuna, wahoo, dolphins, and whales. They can be found 3200 feet deep during the day, but they wander upward at night to hunt, which has led to at least one attack on a human swimmer. Though a run-in with a cookie cutter likely wouldn’t be deadly, their creepy, tooth-filled “smile” isn’t something you'd want to see on a midnight swim.

6. FRILLED SHARK

Frilled sharks have been around for 80 million years, a fact that’s easier to process once you take a look at them. At the end of their prehistoric bodies is a mouth full of 300 teeth across 25 rows that glisten white to lure in prey.

The shark is named for its six pairs of gills which are each trimmed with red “frills.” In 2007, a group of fishermen made history when they spotted a live frilled shark in shallow waters off the coast of Japan. The fish was taken to the Awashima Marine Park in Shizuoka where it was transferred to a seawater pool. After some incredibly rare photographs were taken, the shark sadly died a few hour later.

BONUS: GHOST SHARK

In 2009, scientists with the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute recorded video of a strange creature 6700 feet deep into the Gulf of California. It had a long nose, ghoulish gray skin, and saucer-like eyes that stared blankly into the surrounding abyss. Seven years later, a team of experts identified the creature to be a pointy-nosed blue chimaera, a species of ghost shark never before caught live on tape.

Despite its name, the ghost shark isn’t technically a shark. Chimaeras are close relatives that also use flexible cartilage in place of solid bone. Little is known about the group, but researchers suspect the lines of dots dimpling their snouts are used to detect prey. Males are also notable for wielding retractable sex organs on their foreheads.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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technology
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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iStock
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Health
200 Health Experts Call for Ban on Two Antibacterial Chemicals
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iStock

In September 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a ban on antibacterial soap and body wash. But a large collective of scientists and medical professionals says the agency should have done more to stop the spread of harmful chemicals into our bodies and environment, most notably the antimicrobials triclosan and triclocarban. They published their recommendations in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

The 2016 report from the FDA concluded that 19 of the most commonly used antimicrobial ingredients are no more effective than ordinary soap and water, and forbade their use in soap and body wash.

"Customers may think added antimicrobials are a way to reduce infections, but in most products there is no evidence that they do," Ted Schettler, science director of the Science and Environmental Health Network, said in a statement.

Studies have shown that these chemicals may actually do more harm than good. They don't keep us from getting sick, but they can contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, also known as superbugs. Triclosan and triclocarban can also damage our hormones and immune systems.

And while they may no longer be appearing on our bathroom sinks or shower shelves, they're still all around us. They've leached into the environment from years of use. They're also still being added to a staggering array of consumer products, as companies create "antibacterial" clothing, toys, yoga mats, paint, food storage containers, electronics, doorknobs, and countertops.

The authors of the new consensus statement say it's time for that to stop.

"We must develop better alternatives and prevent unneeded exposures to antimicrobial chemicals," Rolf Haden of the University of Arizona said in the statement. Haden researches where mass-produced chemicals wind up in the environment.

The statement notes that many manufacturers have simply replaced the banned chemicals with others. "I was happy that the FDA finally acted to remove these chemicals from soaps," said Arlene Blum, executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute. "But I was dismayed to discover at my local drugstore that most products now contain substitutes that may be worse."

Blum, Haden, Schettler, and their colleagues "urge scientists, governments, chemical and product manufacturers, purchasing organizations, retailers, and consumers" to avoid antimicrobial chemicals outside of medical settings. "Where antimicrobials are necessary," they write, we should "use safer alternatives that are not persistent and pose no risk to humans or ecosystems."

They recommend that manufacturers label any products containing antimicrobial chemicals so that consumers can avoid them, and they call for further research into the impacts of these compounds on us and our planet.

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