April 7, 2009—In just a short time, one of the rarest sharks in the world went from swimming in Philippine waters to simmering in coconut milk.
The 13-foot-long (4-meter-long) megamouth shark (pictured), caught on March 30 by mackerel fishers off the city of Donsol, was only the 41st megamouth shark ever found, according to WWF-Philippines.
Fishers brought the odd creature—which died during its capture—to local project manager Elson Aca of WWF, an international conservation nonprofit.
Aca immediately identified it as a megamouth shark and encouraged the fishers not to eat it.
But the draw of the delicacy was too great: The 1,102-pound (500-kilogram) shark was butchered for a shark-meat dish called kinuout.
"While it is sad that this rare megamouth shark was ultimately lost, the discovery highlights the incredible biodiversity found in the Donsol area and the relatively good health of the ecosystem," Yokelee Lee, WWF-US program officer for the Coral Triangle, said in an email.
The Coral Triangle, which spans Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Solomon Islands, and Timor-Leste (East Timor), is home to the richest concentration of marine life—including iridescent corals—in the world, according to WWF.
"It is essential that we continue working with the government and local community on the sustainable management of Donsol's fisheries resources for the benefit of whale sharks, megamouth sharks, and the local community," Lee said.
The megamouth shark species, discovered in 1976 off Oahu, Hawaii, was so bizarre that scientists had to create a new family and genus to classify it. With its giant mouth but tiny teeth, megamouth, like the whale shark, is a filter feeder that preys on tiny animals and appears to be no danger to humans.
Only 40 megamouth sharks, including 7 in the Philippines, have been found since the initial discovery. The shark is so rare that the International Union for Conservation of Nature lists the megamouth species as "data deficient."
(Related shark pictures: "Rare "Prehistoric" Shark Photographed Alive".)
Scientists who examined Megamouth 41—the Philippine specimen's official name, bestowed by the Florida Museum of Natural History—before it was eaten found facial scars from past run-ins with gill nets. The shark's last meal was shrimp larvae.
Other shark species in Donsol are valued for conservation rather than consumption: The region hosts a successful ecotourism project that allows people to swim with whale sharks, according to WWF.