National Geographic News
The African dwarf sawshark.

The African dwarf sawshark, one of four new sharks discovered in 2011.

Image courtesy D. A. Ebert and G.M. Cailliet, California Academy of Sciences

Christine Dell'Amore

National Geographic News

Published December 28, 2011

Four new sharks—including a "rapier wielding" sawshark—are among 140 new species discovered by California Academy of Sciences researchers in 2011, the institution announced in December.

The African dwarf sawshark (Pristiophorus nancyae) was accidentally captured in a 1,600-foot-deep (490-meter-deep) trawl off Mozambique. The animal is only the seventh species of sawshark known to science, according to David Ebert, a research associate at the Academy.

The predator has a long, tooth-studded snout that it uses like a sword, whipping the appendage through schools of fish and then returning to eat any casualties.

Along with the sawshark, a new species of angel shark, Squatina caillieti, was named from a single specimen collected in 1,200-foot-deep (370-meter-deep) water off the Philippine island of Luzon, Ebert said.

Bottom-dwelling angel sharks, whose large pectoral fins resemble wings, lie partially buried in sediment and ambush passing prey.

In addition, two species of lanternshark in the Etmopterus genus were also discovered in Taiwan and South Africa, respectively.

(Try your luck at a shark jigsaw puzzle.)

New Sharks Part of Discovery Boom

The discoveries are part of a recent boom in new shark and ray finds. Over the past decade, about 200 new species have been described, compared with fewer than 200 in the previous three decades, Ebert said.

(See pictures: "A Hundred New Sharks, Rays Named in Australia.")

Despite these advances in describing new sharks, scientists know very little about the predators' behaviors or their populations, he added.

That's partially because it seems many shark species are restricted to narrow ranges and limited habitats, and also partially because funding to carry out surveys is extremely scarce, Ebert said.

But many scientists and conservationists also tend to neglect certain shark species in their research, he added.

"A lot of [shark] species are going under the radar because they're not as high profile" as, say, the great white shark, he said.

"There's a lot out there in the big ocean we don't know anything about."

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