Walking sharks discovered
Four new species of tropical sharks have been discovered by an international team of researchers in waters off the coasts of Australia and New Guinea. This new discovery brings the total number of known species of walking sharks to nine. These sharks use their fins in order to walk on the ocean floor in very shallow water.
If you are having visions of Saturday Night Live’s infamous “Landshark” bit, do not be alarmed. You will not need to vet any plumbers, flower deliveries, or dolphins at your door, as these sharks cannot survive out of water and pose no threat to humans. To confirm this, University of Queensland biologist Christine Dudgeon, who is the lead author of the 12-year study that was just published in January 21, 2020 in Marine & Freshwater Research, settles those concerns:
“At less than a meter long on average, walking sharks present no threat to people but their ability to withstand low oxygen environments and walk on their fins gives them a remarkable edge over their prey of small crustaceans and mollusks.”
“These unique features are not shared with their closest relatives the bamboo sharks or more distant relatives in the carpet shark order including wobbegongs and whale sharks.”
Dudgeon goes on to note that:
“Data suggests the new species evolved after the sharks moved away from the original population, became genetically isolated in new areas and developed into new species. They may have moved by swimming or walking on their fins, but it’s also possible they hitched a ride on reefs moving westward across the top of New Guinea, about two million years ago.”
“We believe there are more walking shark species still waiting to be discovered.”
These sharks are thought to have evolved about 9 million years ago, making them the “youngest” sharks on Earth according to Mark Erdmann, a co-author of the study and the vice president of Conservation International’s Asia-Pacific marine division. He goes on to state that “The discovery proves that modern sharks have remarkable evolutionary staying power and the ability to adapt to environmental changes.”
Title Credit: Walking shark Hemiscyllium halmahera. Image via Mark Erdmann/ University of Queensland.
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