When we hear about sharks in the wild, we tend to hear negative stories discussing their decline in the wild or the negative impact on shark finning, but some positive news appeared recently when a team of scientists announced their discovery of a new shark species found in the waters off the Galapagos Islands.
Surfers and swimmers can rejoice though, as the new species of catshark is a medium-sized bottom feeder. The new shark was discovered by John McCosker, the chief of aquatic biology at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, along with with Carole C. Baldwin, curator of fishes at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, and Douglas J. Long, a shark specialist at the Oakland Museum. The team described and reported the new species in the latest issue of Zootaxa, an international journal published in New Zealand.
This new species is named Bythaelurus giddingsi with seven specimens captured ranging from 9 to 18 in. in length. McCosker also noted that several larger specimens were observed swimming past the submersible, but they were too fast or too large to be collected.
“The closest living relative of this species would be the swellshark, a shallow-water coastal species seen by scuba divers in California,” McCosker said. “They spend their life on the bottom and probably feed on other fishes and invertebrates. Their teeth are small and sharp and evolved to grasp their prey before engulfing it.”
Even though the article introducing the new species is recent, the expedition captured the seven species nearly 15 years ago back in 1998. This may seem like a long time but the taxonomy process, the identification and naming of new animals, is slow-moving in nature.
The process involved requires careful measurement, dissection and analysis of each organ to ensure it is, in fact, a new species. The seven specimens are preserved for other scientists to examine and study at the academy.
Most shark populations are in decline as heavy fishing is slashing the populations at an alarming rate. Even with the new discovery, there are around 375 species of sharks worldwide.
“Sharks are the top predators of the ocean, and if any one of them goes extinct it can cause the loss of an entire ocean food web, which is why I want to save those primary predators,” McCosker said.
An interesting note on the name Bythaelurus giddingsi. This new species is named after retired underwater filmaker Al Giddings who was in the Galapagos directing an Imax film for the the Smithsonian Institution at the time of the discovery. Giddings saved a companion that was attacked by a great white shark. He braved the cold, blood-drenched waters around the Farallones by diving in, grabbing his friend out of the gaping bite of the shark, and dragging him back to the boat. The brave moment over 40 years ago saved his companions life.
[via SF Gate]