The world’s first hybrid shark was discovered by scientists in waters off Australia’s east coast on Tuesday, reports Amy Coopes of the AFP.Researchers from the University of Queensland found the hybrids to be a mix between the common black-tip shark and the smaller Australian black-tip, which thrives in warmer waters than its global cousin.
Colin Simpfendorfer of James Cook University, who co-authored the study published in the journal Conservation Genetics, told The Washington Post that researchers are still investigating what encouraged the sharks to interbreed, but identified fishing pressure and climate change as some of the possible factors.
While the Australian black-tip favours tropical waters, the hybird offspring was found in milder waters 2,000 kilometers down the coast. This could suggest that the shark species is adapting to changing ocean conditions.
“If it [the Australian black-tip] hybridzes with the common species it can effectively shift its range further south into cooler waters, so the effect of this hybridizing is a range expansion,” leader researcher Jessica Morgan said, as quoted by the AFP. “It’s enabled a species restricted to the tropics to move into temperate waters.”
Morgan does not believe climate change caused the hybridization event (an earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that she did), but that the “hybrids have a wider temperature tolerance than their parents which may make them better adapted to coping with future temperature fluctuations caused by climate change,” she told Business Insider in an email.
Simpfendorfer maintained in an email that there are many potential reasons for the genetic mashup, none of which they have information on yet. He added, however, that they “have not excluded any possibilities at this point.” That could still include climate change and hunting pressure.
The team found 57 hybrids in total, which they believe could be stronger than either pure-bred species since the hybrid is better equipped to handle changing sea temperatures.
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