New Species of Hammerhead Shark Discovered

According to an article in the April 2012 issue of the journal of Marine Biology, a new hammerhead species has now been discovered near the coast of southern Brazil.  The shark was originally discovered off the South Florida coast in 2005 and by a separate team off the South Carolina coast.  At the time, scientists were not sure whether to consider it a new species or not.  However, this new discovery confirms that the original finding was not a local oddity and the new species, as yet unnamed, is much more widespread.

The new shark and the scalloped hammerhead split from a common ancestor about 4.5 millions years ago according to the scientists’ genetic analysis.  Although they resemble each other, the new species has 20 fewer vertebrae.

“It’s a classic case of long-standing species misidentification that not only casts further uncertainty on the status of the real scalloped hammerhead, but also raises concerns about the population status of this new species,” says professor Mahmood Shivji, Ph.D., who oversaw the new research at the NSU-OC’s Save Our Seas Shark Center USA and Guy Harvey Research Institute.

There are three well documented species of large hammerhead sharks: scalloped, great and smooth hammerheads. Their fins have high value in the international shark fin trade. Fins from hammerhead species command high prices in China and other East Asian countries because they have long cartilage needles that are prized for shark fin soup. Millions of sharks are being killed for their fins and meat worldwide resulting in dramatic reductions in shark populations and concerns about the broad scale negative impacts to ocean ecosystems.  This has prompted international protection and other management efforts to reduce the unsustainable slaughter of sharks.

“It’s very important to officially recognize, name and learn more about this new hammerhead species and the condition of its populations through systematic surveys, “ Shivji says.  “Without management intervention to curtail its inadvertent killing, we run the risk that overfishing could eradicate an entire shark species before its existence is even properly acknowledged.”

The status of the scalloped hammerhead is currently under review by the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service to determine if it warrants listing as threatened or endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.  It is already on the red list of endangered species of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources.  The new species is on neither list.

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