Scientists from the California Academy of Sciences, the Oakland Museum and the National Museum of Natural History recently reported the discovery of a previously undocumented shark species swimming around the waters of the Galapagos Islands. The San Francisco Chronicle reports the researchers actually found and collected a number of these sharks back in 1998, but the process of cataloguing a new species is not a quick one, as everything from ensuring it is actually new to naming it can be time-consuming.
The research team named the shark Bythaelurus giddingsi for retired underwater filmmaker Al Giddings, who was with the team when the sharks were first spotted. This aquatic creature is a member of the bottom-feeding catshark family. Researchers captured seven different sharks, ranging from nine to 18 inches in length, that had not yet reached sexual maturity. While scientists saw larger ones, they were unable to catch any adult sharks.
"The closest living relative of this species would be the swellshark, a shallow-water coastal species seen by scuba divers in California," John McCosker, lead scientist on the research team and the chief of aquatic biology at the California Academy of Sciences, told the San Francisco Chronicle. "They spend their life on the bottom and probably feed on other fishes and invertebrates. Their teeth are small and sharp and evolve to grasp prey before engulfing it."
There are currently about 375 known species of sharks in the world, but many of them are experiencing massive population declines, and 30 percent are threatened or nearing extinction, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. This is mainly due to overfishing, as these aquatic predators are a major delicacy in many Asian nations. Research biologist Mark Marks told Animal Planet that sharks are also threatened by deforestation and pollution that affect their breeding and nursery habitats. Trophy hunters and accidental capture in fishing nets are also contributing to the population decline of sharks.
McCosker explained that if any one species goes extinct, it could completely destroy an entire food web, since sharks are at the top of their food chains. The Pew Environmental Group offers the example of tiger sharks to illustrate the dangers of shark extinction. Tiger sharks prey on dugongs and green sea turtles that forage in seagrass beds. If the sharks are removed, the other creatures would be able to forage as much as they wanted and the seagrass beds would be gone before long.
Discovery of new shark species could spell hope for the sea creatures, but still more efforts are needed to protect them. Those embarking on Galapagos Islands cruises can learn more about shark species such as hammerheads and white-tipped reef sharks, and see them swimming in their natural habitat. This can be a great opportunity to gain a better understanding of these creatures and what can be done to conserve them.
For the latest travel trends and exciting discoveries., visit our Galapagos Islands Travel News section.