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What is a Mermaid Purse?

The ocean is full of secrets that hide just below the surface waiting to be discovered. Some of these secrets find themselves washed up on our shores, revealing just a little bit more of the wonder that lurks below.

Mermaid purses are just one of these secrets that may disguise themselves as seaweed, but, in fact, they are one of the most crucial aspects of marine life, helping to ensure the survival of many species of shark.

Read on to discover just what a mermaid purse is, how a shark hatches from one and what you should do if you find one!

What is a mermaid purse?

A mermaid purse is a colloquial term given to eggs that skates, chimaeras and some species of shark lay. The exact history of the term is unknown, but it’s speculated that in years gone by people thought that mermaids would use these little pods to store their treasures.

While they are definitely beautiful, they are actually storing a different sort of treasure – tiny developing fish!

Do all sharks lay eggs?

Sharks can give birth to offspring via two different methods: oviparous and viviparous. Oviparous sharks lay eggs that hatch outside of their body, while viviparous sharks give birth to live young.

It’s thought that 98% of fish species lay eggs, usually thousands at a time because of their slim chances of survival. However, sharks are generally viviparous, with around 40% of them laying eggs.

All of these sharks lay eggs:

  • Carpet shark
  • Bullhead shark
  • Bamboo shark
  • Cat sharks
  • Horn sharks
  • Port Jackson sharks

How do sharks hatch from an egg?

After 6-9 months in the egg, a juvenile shark will emerge from the mermaid purse.

At the top of the egg, between the horns, there is a small opening that the sharks emerge from. When discovered washed up on beaches, it can be difficult to spot this because the egg will have dried up and shrivelled, but once you’ve checked that there is no unhatched shark inside it, you can soak it in water and you will be able to spot the exit route by gentle pinching the sides with your thumb and forefinger.

What do mermaid purses look like?

A mermaid purse is a tough, leathery pouch that can resemble something between a beetle and seaweed.

They vary in colour but they are usually a dark green or brown colour, revealing the embryo inside if the light hits it just right.

The end of a mermaid purse has two or four tendrils that are used to wrap around kelp or seaweed so that they don’t float away.

What to do if you find a mermaid purse

Mermaid purses are usually found washed up on beaches, usually after the shark has hatched and swam away. When they are found, they are usually dried up and withered due to a lack of nutrients and moisture, which is why some people mistake them for seaweed.

Although mermaid purses are perfectly fine to take home, you must first make sure that they’re empty.

The eggs are translucent so you should be able to hold them in the light and see if you can spot a marine creature inside. If it looks like there is a fish inside, you should place it back when you found it and allow nature to take its course.

It’s fair to say that the more we learn about the oceans, the more fascinating it becomes. There truly are more treasures in the ocean than meets the eye a mermaid purse is a great example of how the sea can try to hide its treasures.

At Deep Sea World, we’re lucky enough to have Europe’s longest underwater moving tunnel, which is home to our egg-laying rays and sharks that you might be able to spot during your visit.Don’t miss your chance to spot these incredible treasures in the flesh by booking your tickets to Deep Sea World today!

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