New shark species discovered

By Kerry Stansfield
Photo by Graham Abbott

Currently there are approximately 373 described species of shark and around 400 species of ray, a close relative of the shark. Yet in the deep ocean and in more remote areas where few scientists have visited, new species are still being discovered.

Sadly, divers are unlikely to see a laternshark as they are deep-water species but they must be an amazing sight as they emit green light from the belly. A new species of lantenshark, Etmopterus burgessi was named and described by scientists of the Pacific Shark Research Center in California after four specimens were collected in deepwater trawls in the western North Pacific off Taiwan.

Lanternsharks are typically very small and have luminescent photophore organs – normally on the belly – that produce a bright green light. One species, E. perryi, may be the world’s smallest shark species, being fully-grown at around 15-20cm/6-8″.

During an undersea survey of fauna off Indonesia’s Papua in an area known as the Bird’s Head Seascape, Conservation International, a US-based Conservation NGO, discovered a new species of epaulette shark that walks along the seabed on its pectoral fins! New species of fish, shrimp and coral were also discovered during the survey. The area is a hotbed of specification and a global priority for conservation due to its incredible biodiversity, unfortunately, it is threatened by fish bombing and cyanide fishing and there are plans to promote commercial fishing in the area due to depleted resources in current fishing zones.

Graham Abbott epaulette shark (Hemiscyillum freycineti ) uses its pectoral fins to 'walk' across the seafloor

The epaulette shark (Hemiscyillum freycineti) uses its pectoral fins to ‘walk’ across the seafloor

New species are even being found in commercial catches. Biologist Juan Carlos Perez of Ensenada, Mexico recently discovered a new species of smooth hound shark while examining fishing trawler catch from the Gulf of California. The local fishermen are familiar with smooth hounds as they generally make up 80 percent of the day’s catch; it is possible that they had overlooked the new species in previous catches. The new species, Mustelus hacat, grows to one meter in length and lives at depths of more than 200 meters.

Obviously there is still much to learn about sharks. Unfortunately, while we are discovering new species, increased pressure on many shark species due to unregulated, unreported fishing practices is threatening many shark species. In addition, like many other species, sharks are also threatened by habitat destruction, pollution and climate change.

Due to limited available data on fishing intensities there are uncertainties with regard to the current conservation status of many species of shark. The World Conservation Union says 65 out of 373 known shark species are threatened. Much of the increased fishing pressure on sharks is attributed to the increased trade and consumption of shark’s fins. Given the scientific uncertainty about whether shark fishing and trade is sustainable, the precautionary approach to shark and shark fin consumption is the most appropriate.

This article is the second in a series of shark-related content brought to you by the Marine SIG (Selangor Branch) as part of our Fins – Best on Sharks campaign.