March 24, 2012
The Galapagos Islands, the world famous Archipelago in the Pacific Ocean, 600 miles from mainland Ecuador, to whom they belong; never stop being a fountain of biological surprises and scientific discoveries, living up to their reputation as a “living laboratory of evolution”, since the days of Charles Darwin in the 1800’s.
Scientists conducting deep-sea dives around the Galapagos Islands have discovered a new species of shark, in the depths of the unique Archipelago’s waters. The new species is part of a wide family known as “cat-sharks”. The new species is about 1.3 feet long, thus approximately the size of a typical housecat.
Cat-sharks, which are also known sometimes as “dogfishes”, belong to one of the largest families of sharks. The new species was named taxonomically as Bythaelurus giddingsi; and was identified and separated among seven specimens found during two submersible treks in 1995 and 1998. The specimens were taken to the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, where the researches compared them with other species of “cat sharks” and found the ones brought from the Galapagos as entirely different from other known species of the abundant varieties of “cat sharks”.
The individuals of the new species are chocolate brown with pale, leopard-like spots randomly distributed on their body. This element distinguished the new species from the others, as the later are typically dusky or possess a straight line of spots. Researchers were further surprised to find that the arrangement of the spots on the specimens brought from Galapagos was totally unique, with most individual sharks having an identifying spot on one side, which is either smaller, larger or differently shaped than the same spot on the opposite side. The investigators, excited by the finding, did not hesitate to suggest the new species to be called, of course, the “Galapagos cat-shark”, as their common name.
The March 5th edition of Zootaxa, a recognized “bible” for biologists and taxonomists, describes the new species of shark which has been fully identified and classified, after intense research and technical studies, conducted mainly by the California Academy of Sciences. Further research will be necessary in order to determine the status of the Galapagos cat-shark’s population, their demographics, feeding and reproductive habits. To find out their population stability will be a key element in order to take preservation measures in the event that they may be in any possible risk of extinction. Their condition of endemism, thus being found only in one place (in this case Galapagos), makes them more susceptible to extinction pressures.
As top level predators, sharks are necessary to keep the ecosystems’ balance. However, according to researchers, close to 100 million sharks are killed each year around the globe, due to human action. Nevertheless, the Galapagos Islands, are a “Whales and Cartilaginous Fishes Sanctuary”, along with their condition of strictly protected areas, the terrestrial National Park, the world’s first Natural Heritage Site, so declared by UNESCO In 1979, and its Marine Reserve, the second largest in surface of the world, thus being managed under tight regulations in order to protect the unique and equally fragile ecosystems. The scientific community has been, once again, pleasantly shook by the discovery and identification of a previously unknown and fully new and distinct species of shark in the amazing realms of the Galapagos Islands’ waters, while the Archipelago keeps accumulating new findings and reasons to visit and explore its enchanted habitats, unique in all the planet.
T H E E N D
Sharks in many places around the world face extinction from human activity, such as commercial and recreational fishing. Researchers estimate that 100 million sharks are killed each year.
As top-level predators, sharks are necessary to keep ecosystems in balance. Because the Galapagos Catshark is only found in one place, researchers fear it may be more susceptible to extinction pressures.