[ Watch the Video: New Walking Shark Species Identified ]
Michael Harper for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
Scientists from Conservation International have discovered a new species of shark living in the waters of Indonesia. Unlike other sharks, however, this species has an unusual way of getting around; it walks.
This ambulating aquatic creature uses its fins to gently glide across the sea floor on its belly as it searches for food and a place to rest. The newly discovered shark, called the epaulette shark (Hemiscyllium halmahera), is one of nine walking sharks found all over the world.
The striped shark can grow up to 30 inches long, is harmless to humans, and so far has only been seen in the waters off the Indonesian island of Halmahera. In a Conservation International blog, Dr. Mark Erdmann says this discovery is important to help the Asian Island work to protect the habitat of its native sharks against fisheries that export dried shark fins to points all over the world.
According to Discovery News, females of the species lay their eggs underneath coral ledges in these waters. The baby sharks are then born into a world that they’ll mostly swim around slowly, using their fins as legs to search the seafloor for crustaceans and other kinds of food. So far the H. halmahera is believed to have similar environment preferences as its eight cousins, sticking to shallower waters not far from home. Six of the walking shark species prefer Indonesian waters, as well. A video highlights how these fish move around in their habitat.
“This is the third walking shark species to be described from eastern Indonesia in the past six years, which highlights our tremendous shark and ray biodiversity,” explained Indonesian Institute of Sciences’ shark expert Fahmi in an interview with The Guardian.
“We now know that six of the nine known walking shark species occur in Indonesian waters, and these animals are divers’ favorites with excellent potential to help grow our marine tourism industry.”
Fahmi and his colleague Dharmadi at the Indonesian Ministry of Fisheries will soon publish a guide that will identify the nearly 220 shark species that live in and around the Island’s waters.
The discovery of the H. halmahera, in partnership with other efforts to increase awareness and tourism in Indonesia, is seen as a way to protect each of the shark species in the area. For decades the Island held the title as the world’s largest exporter of dried shark fins.
These fins are a delicacy in China and other parts of the world. They’re used to make shark fin soup, a dish that is flavored with chicken or some other kind of stock. Though the fins don’t add much in the way of flavor, they add texture and, according to some, important health benefits. Some say eating the soup can increase one’s appetite and improve bone and lung health. Many in the Far East continue to eat the soup at important events and gatherings such as weddings.
Dr. Erdmann now says that an increased interest in scuba diving could help protect the walking shark and decrease the number of fins exported from the Island.
“As Indonesia’s economy has matured, the past decade has seen a tremendous increase in the number of Indonesians taking up scuba diving,” said Dr. Erdmann. “This has dramatically increased awareness of the declines in shark and ray populations while simultaneously creating a large ‘fan base’ for charismatic species like manta rays and whale sharks.”
Conservation International will also use the walking shark as its mascot for its new marine conservation education program and act as a local ambassador for all other local species in Halmahera.