Photograph courtesy William White
Published September 1, 2011
It's unlikely anyone's ever complained, "Waiter, there's a new species in my soup." But the situation isn't as rare as you might think.
Fish taxonomists found the previously unknown shark at a market in Taiwan—no big surprise, according to study co-author William White.
"Most fish markets in the region will regularly contain sharks," White, of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization in Hobart, Australia, said via email.
In fact, he and a colleague had headed to the Tashi Fish Market specifically to "collect some material and to see whether there were noticeable differences in the [shark] catches from previous decades," he said.
"Amongst a number of other species, we collected a number of Squalus species—one of which was this new high-fin species."
The new species, Squalus formosus, is a three-foot-long (one-meter-long) short-nosed dogfish. It's distinguished from other dogfish species in the Squalus genus by a particularly upright first fin on its back, a strong spine, and a very short, rounded head, White said.
(See a picture of a Portuguese dogfish.)
New Species Likely Unnoticed by Eaters
S. formosus ("Formosa" being a former name for Taiwan), likely wound up in the fish market in the same way most deep-ocean sharks do—as bycatch, accidentally ensnared during hunts for other fish.
In fish markets, "it is unlikely people would know the difference"—tastewise or otherwise—between the new species and other sharks, said White, emphasizing that he hasn't eaten the new species and doesn't know how it's prepared.
"Similar species in Indonesia are salted and dried for human consumption and fins used as filler in the shark-fin soup trade," he said. "But that doesn't necessarily reflect what they do with the sharks in Taiwan."
From One Species, Many
The new species is currently known only from waters around Taiwan and Japan and is unlikely to be found much farther afield, White said, since Squalus species tend to have narrow ranges.
Many species once thought to be wide-ranging have been shown to actually be multiple, but similar, species with smaller ranges, he said.
One benefit of scientifically classifying all these closely related, narrow-ranging species is that scientists will be able to better assess just how healthy their populations are—or aren't.
Because deepwater sharks don't reproduce rapidly, they have a harder time bouncing back from overfishing, White said. "So personally, I have a preference not to eat these animals."
The new shark species is described in the August 26 issue of the Journal of Fish Biology.
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