A new shark species has been identified by scientists near the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador. This shark, similar in some ways to a catshark, is a spotted, bottom-dwelling shark that lives in deep waters. It has a wide mouth, which makes it an effective predator to grab passing invertebrates and fish. The shark was seen from a submersible as it descended to the ocean floor to about 500 meters (1600 ft). This fish had never before been seen near the Galapagos archipelago.
John McCosker, chairman of aquatic biology at the California Academy of Sciences tells that he looked out the window of the submersible and saw this spotted catshark and said to himself, “What the heck is that?”. McCosker has been the lead author on a paper that describes this shark. He also said that this was a very exciting find for them as they never expected that this genus of sharks had a species living near the Galapagos.
McCosker and his team started a long chase around the ocean floor to capture the shark, with several failed attempts as the shark scurried out of reach when the submersible’s vacuum-like collecting tool got close to it.
Finally the shark was sucked in the subs vacuum along with six more specimens also found in the nearby ocean floor. Among the specimens captured were chocolate brown sharks, specked with whitish spots about the size of the shark’s large eyes.
Due to their extreme isolation from the continent, the Galapagos Islands are famous for their unique species of animals, both at sea and on land. This new shark is no exception. Unlike many shark species, the spots on this shark appear to be randomly distributed, with unique patterns found on each individual animal.
The largest shark spotted by McCosker was about 0.6 meters (2 ft) long, which is about average for catsharks. The biggest shark in the Galapagos is the Galapagos Whale Shark, measuring up to 55 ft in length (17 meters). Due to the limitations of the submersible’s vacuum system, the team was only able to collect a specimen of about 45 cm (17 in) in length. This is not the first time that specimens of this species have been collected. On diving expeditions in ’95 and ’98, divers were able to collect a few specimens. However, this is the first time that researchers are publishing a formal description.
The species collected were not collected alive and had to be stored in formaldehyde, which makes DNA sampling impossible since it breaks down proteins. However, with the advanced DNA analysis techniques available, McCosker was confident that the team could get further specimens for genetic sampling before proceeding to release the description and articles. Unfortunately, McCosker and his team were not able to return to the region and thus decided to publish their findings.
This research, with further information on the specimen, is published on the journal Zootaxa, on the March 5 issue.
McCosker claimed that the announcement is bittersweet for him. He told reporters, "Ninety percent of the sharks that were in the ocean when I was born are gone."
"There is great irony to be discovering new species of sharks, as sharks are disappearing worldwide," he said, many the victims of the lucrative trade in shark fins for shark fin soup.