Photo: Paul Clerkin
When we think of sharks, the picture we pull up is often that of the tremendous great white. But these big sharks aren’t the only kinds out there. Sharks come in all shapes and sizes, some of them with crazy skills, special spines, and knifelike snouts.
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To get a better idea of how many sharks there are out there, and learn more about the different species, researcher Paul Clerkin, a graduate student at California’s Moss Landing Marine Laboratories, set out on a two-month fishing expedition.
“I tell people I have a ton of sharks, and they keep thinking I’m joking,” Clerkin said in an interview with OurAmazingPlanet. “It was an actual ton. I brought back 350 sharks.”
Some of them are completely new species that hadn’t been discovered before.
He collected the sharks that the fishermen caught accidentally — called “bycatch” — while they were trawling the seafloor.
“As the fishermen trawl for their targeted catch, many other species are often caught unintentionally and result in incidental mortalities. The fishing vessel did not change its normal fishing practices to target the sharks, and they actually avoid sharks because most species have low commercial value and can damage the nets,” Clerkin told us in an email. Clerkin “only collected sharks that were dead when they came out of the net, and any shark that was even slightly alive was immediately returned to the ocean without further risk to its health.”
Here, he describes some of the weird sharks he found in his own words.
This is a new species of catshark. As you can see from the ruler in the picture the shark only gets a little over a foot long before they fully mature. Although they are small they might be important predators on the sea mounts (underwater mountains) they inhabit. This chubby little shark's appearance greatly contrasts with the classic vision of the Great White shark.
In this picture I am working on deck with a false catshark. This species isn't new but it is considered to be rare. I was extremely excited the first time we found one. As we caught more false catsharks over the trip I started to suspect these sharks are not as rare as previously thought. I think they just live in remote locations relatively unexplored by science. Although it is not a new species I gathered data and information on this shark that was previously unknown and will increase our understanding of this strange animal.
This shark in an Etmopterus (lantern shark). Although it is only one meter long it is very large for a lantern shark.
Here is a picture of one of the rougher days we had at sea. Waves would regular wash over the deck on days like this.
This is a picture of a Centroscymnus owstoni. Although it is not a new species I gathered data and information on this shark that was previously unknown and will increase our understanding of this rare animal.
These sharks are from the genus Deania commonly called the birdbeak sharks. Their snouts are flat, long, and very pointy.
This is a new species of ghost shark. They have long spines on the top of their heads and large pectoral fins. They are deepsea relatives of true sharks and are very strange in appearance.
This beautiful shark is a gulper shark. It is currently unidentified and we are working with experts of the genus to determine if it is a new species. We are also running genetics to determine if it is a new species. It has long trailing ends to each of its unique fins and was my favourite shark on this trip.
This is a known species of dogfish. I managed to get a lot of diet and maturity data to help us understand the rare shark and which could be used to improve management.
This large plunked shark is very rare and poorly understood. We plan on rewriting a description of this shark to aid scientists and other individuals involved in fishery regulation and bycatch.
This strange little catshark is probably a new species. Its long snout and shovel shaped head gives it a very strange appearance.
This is a full side shot of the same new species. Their long tails end in a string like filament. A truly bizarre animal.
This strange little shark resembles a cigar. Lantern sharks are so named because many of them can generate light (bioluminescence) which they use in their deepsea habitat. It's a trick you'll never see a great white do.
This is a new species of Hydrolagus a close relative to Chimaeras. It different because its tail does not end in a long filament and it also lacks a small fin by its tail.
These strange little catsharks are a weird whitish-pink and were very small. They are likely a new species and are very weird looking.
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