Scientists researching a new, yet unnamed shark species have recently become aware that the marine animal’s looks are putting it in danger of extinction.
The world’s newest shark bears a striking resemblance to the endangered scalloped hammerhead shark, and this puts both species at increased risk. Originally discovered off the eastern United States by Nova Southeastern University Oceanographic Center (NSU-OC), the impostor has now been found more than 4,300 miles away near the coast of southern Brazil, confirming suspicious that it was a wide spread species, and not just a local mutation.
Unfortunately, the scalloped hammerhead shark is hunted by fishing operations that want its highly prized fins, and by looking so much like its cousin, the new shark species is likely to be in danger as well.
Combining genetic assessments of NSU and South Carolina researchers shows that at least 7 percent of the sharks in U.S. waters originally thought to be scalloped hammerheads turned out to be the new species. This means that the population of the endangered real scalloped hammerhead in U.S. waters is probably smaller than originally thought.
“It’s a classic case of long-standing species misidentification that not only casts further uncertainty on the status of the real scalloped hammerhead but also raises concerns about the population status of this new species,” says professor Mahmood Shivji, Ph.D., who oversaw the new research at the NSU-OC’s Save Our Seas Shark Center USA and Guy Harvey Research Institute.
Shark finning, a process whereby fishers slice the fins from live sharks and then toss their corpse overboard, has come under increasing scrutiny as countries begin to acknowledge the cruel wastefulness of the process. Guam, Chile, Toronto, California, and Oregon have already passed laws preventing the sale, trade, or possession of shark fins, and a similar law is in the works for New York.
But many Asian countries still encourage the consumption of shark fins, and laws banning this practice may not be passed fast enough for the hammerhead’s twin. “It’s very important to officially recognize, name and learn more about this new hammerhead species and the condition of its populations through systematic surveys,” Shivji says. “Without management intervention to curtail its inadvertent killing, we run the risk that overfishing could eradicate an entire shark species before its existence is even properly acknowledged.”
Top Image: Scalloped Hammerhead Shark
Image via Save Our Seas Foundation/Peter Verhoog
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