First discovered in 2005 near Fort Lauderdale, Florida, by a team of researchers at Nova Southeastern University’s Oceanographic Center, the small hammerhead-like shark was considered nothing other than what it appeared to be. However, after further genetic assessment and a closer look at its vertebrae, the university’s team led by Mahmood Shivji realized that the small shark was a different type of shark altogether.
The shark, which still remains largely a mystery, is characterized by a wide flat head often times associated with the better known scalloped hammerhead shark. Yet, even with the excitement that surrounds any new discovery, there is now a fear that current estimations of the scalloped hammerhead shark population may, in fact, be much lower than currently believed. As it is, in U.S. waters alone it is projected that at least 7 percent of sharks previously considered scalloped hammerheads are actually this new species.
“It’s a classic case of long-standing species misidentification that only casts further uncertainty on the status of the real scalloped hammerhead, but also raises concerns about the population status of this new species,” Shivji explained of the recent finding. And this new predicament could mean bad news for the already endangered animal. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the scalloped hammerhead is considered a “vulnerable” species and is listed on the organization’s Red List of Endangered Animals. Knowing what is now known about this new hammerhead species may mean that current estimates of the original scalloped hammerhead population may be well off the mark all around the world.
Already, the new unnamed species of shark has been spotted as far away as the southern coast of Brazil (approximately 4,300 miles away from the Florida coastline), proving that the range of the animal is rather long reaching. Because of the many similarities between the two species, there is a growing concern that this new species may already be struggling against the same threats as its predecessor.
Current unsustainable fishing practices and trends around the world are threatening numerous shark species, including the scalloped hammerhead and its smaller cousin. Whether they are specifically targeted for their fins or taken in as bycatch (caught in gillnets and long lines cast for fishing), populations of sharks are being killed in such great numbers as to threaten the animal with extinction. With little know about this new shark species, many involved with the issue have rightfully placed fears that the animal may become extinct long before it is ever fully understood and acknowledged by the greater scientific community.
Shivji fears that without adequate research this outcome is extremely likely. “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 explained. “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.”
It is essential to both the scalloped hammerhead shark and its “cryptic” look-alike, that the new species is further researched and identified. Without proper recognition and protection from an international animal rights organization, the fate of the animal may already be decided. To help support further research and conservation of this new hammerhead species, ask the IUCN to get involved, and sign the petition here.
Photo Credit: upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/79/Sphyrna_lewini_young.jpg