New Sharks, Rays Discovered in Indonesia Fish Markets

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Sarah Fowler is co-chair of the shark specialist group for the nonprofit World Conservation Union (IUCN).

Fowler said the survey is a "really important start toward the process of providing names for these animals and starting to draw people's attention to the fact they could be threatened almost before they are described."

More than 800 specimens collected during the fish market trawls are now lodged at the Museum Zoologicum Bogoriense on the Indonesian island of Java and at the Australian National Fish Collection in Hobart.

The survey also forms the basis of a new field guide called Economically Important Sharks and Rays of Indonesia that is available in English and Indonesian.

The guide represents the first in-depth report of Indonesia's sharks and rays since Dutch scientist Pieter Bleeker described more than 1,100 new fish species between 1842 and 1860, the survey team said.

At the time scientists in Europe rejected Bleeker's finds, saying they doubted such high levels of diversity could exist among marine life.

However, many of the species Bleeker described were rediscovered more than a century later in fish markets in Jakarta in the mid-1990s.

New Species Bonanza

Indonesia, the world's most extensive archipelago, is thought to have the highest diversity of native marine wildlife in the world.

A recent expedition to the seas of West Papua led by the nonprofit Conservation International turned up some 50 previously unknown species, including sharks that "walk" along coral reefs on their fins.

(See photos of the "walking" shark and other new species found during the 2006 expedition.)

"It's extraordinary—for large animals like this—just how many new species are being discovered," IUCN's Fowler said.

She noted, however, that in nearby Australia more than 30 percent of sharks and rays are found nowhere else.

"So it's not a surprise that as people go through the markets in Indonesia that they find these new species," she said.

Many of the smaller sharks living in the waters around Indonesia are not found elsewhere, she added, because they are not good swimmers.

The main threat to such populations comes from small, intensive coastal fisheries and subsistence fisheries.

Together, she said, both fishing practices "take very, very large quantities of sharks and rays."

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