A team of scientists working in South Carolina have identified a new species of hammerhead shark. According to a press release issued by the University of South Carolina on Nov. 7, 2013, the discovery amounts to hitting a "grand slam" in the world of biology.
A new discovery
The new breed, discovered by a team led by Joe Quattro, an icthyologist at the University of South Carolina's College of Arts and Sciences, was completely by accident. As part of an ongoing project, Quattro's aim has been to examine the fish in freshwater rivers and follow the trail to the Atlantic Ocean on the U.S. coast collecting genetic data along the way.
The group was exploring these local waters when they stumbled upon a shark that looks almost identical to another already known shark, the scalloped hammerhead. But instead, what they found was actually a completely new species of shark.
Introducing the Carolina Hammerhead
Dubbed the "Carolina hammerhead", or in formal terms Sphyrna gilbert, the shark has a different genetic makeup than its known cousins. The new species' formal name comes from Carter Gilbert, a well-known curator of the Florida Museum of Natural History, who originally had described the new species back in 1967.
In recent years, scientists watched the sharks born in the estuaries located off the South Carolina coast, a well-known pupping ground for sharks. They examined 80 babies that resembled scalloped hammerhead sharks. What they found was there were differences from the known species of sharks they resemble.
According to Live Science, the researchers said the Carolina hammerhead has 10 fewer vertebrae, is slightly smaller and, overall, is a rarity. Only five tissue samples out of the three or four hundred examined have been found outside South Carolina waters.
Scientists attribute the Carolina hammerhead's previous unknown status to its extremely close likeness to the commonly known scalloped hammerheads, describing the Carolina hammerhead as being "outwardly indistinguishable."
At this time, however, researchers are unsure of how large a Carolina hammerhead can grow because they have not yet had the opportunity to examine an adult.
Full details on the study that describes the Carolina hammerhead can be found in the journal Zootaxa.
Decline of shark populations
The rare number of sharks in both the new species and previously known ones is on the decline. Currently, populations are down 90 percent, reported LiveScience. The University of South Carolina press release noted this recently released study emphasizes the "fragility of shark diversity" due to human activity and prey. For instance, in the East, shark fin soup is considered a delicacy and has led to a high killing of sharks. Additionally, the shark industry is reportedly a lucrative one, which has led to overfishing of sharks, and has become a big problem in many areas.
The decline of shark population was recently again highlighted when it was discovered through an undercover investigation that fishermen in Peru were illegally slaughtering dolphins to use as shark bait. Dolphins are another species that is preyed upon, and thus protected in many areas due to its population decline.