Four New species of walking shark have been discovered in the waters off Northern Australia and New Guinea, almost doubling the current number of known species to nine.
The walking shark, part of the Hemiscylliidae genus, also known as bamboo or epaulette sharks, gets its name from its ability to “walk” using its fins. While it might be a little bit generous to call what they do walking, they have adapted to the environment very well.
They use their pectoral and pelvic fins to crawl over the rocks during low tide to give them access to prey that would otherwise be out of reach. Their ability to survive in low oxygen environments is another weapon in their arsenal, which makes them lethal hunters. Fortunately they only grow to around a meter long and the favourite prey are small fish, crustaceans and molluscs.
The walking sharks were discovered during a 12-year study with Conservation International, the CSIRO, Florida Museum of Natural History, the Indonesian Institute of Sciences and Indonesian Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries.
Dr Christine Dudgeon or the University of Queensland said:
“Data suggests the new species evolved after the sharks moved away from their 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.”
It is believed further research into these animals will help researchers understand why this region is home to some of the greatest marine biodiversity on the planet.
Photo Credit: Mark Erdmann