Scientists discovered four new species of sharks that walk
Publish | 25 Jan 2020, 23:22
Some sharks walk. Just not the scary ones. While great whites haunt the deep, walking sharks are content to scuttle in the shallows. They've been walking, or something close to it, for at least 9 million years. They're evolutionary superstars, too: Walking sharks could be the most recently evolved shark on Earth.
That's according to findings published this week in Marine and Freshwater Research. Shark scientists spent years sampling the DNA of the only known walking shark species to estimate when they evolved. They found four new species while they were at it.
This walking shark, which resides in a shallow ocean off New Guinea, uses his fins to "walk" along the sea floor in search of food.
During mass extinction events, carpet sharks, the group that includes walking sharks, were among the "most affected" animals, researchers wrote.
Sea levels rose and ocean temperatures dropped, pushing the sharks to migrate to warmer waters.
Sharks off the coast of Australia "hitched a ride" on moving tectonic plates all the way to New Guinea, researchers said. When the plates stopped shifting, the land settled, creating barriers for species to migrate. This might be why the sharks' habitat rarely overlap, they wrote.
Hope for walking sharks' future Erdman said the group hopes their research could encourage conservationists to add a few of the sharks to the IUCN Red List, a global inventory of threatened species, based on how little is known about them.
"A global recognition of the need to protect walking sharks will help ensure they thrive providing benefits for marine ecosystems and to local communities through the sharks' value as tourism assets," he said. "It's essential that local communities, governments and the international public continue working to establish marine protected areas to help ensure our ocean's biodiversity continues to flourish."