"Walking" Sharks Among 50 New Species Found in Indonesia Reefs

September 18, 2006

More than 50 new species have been discovered off the coast of Indonesia, including small, slender-bodied sharks that "walk" with their fins along coral reefs, researchers announced today.

(See photos of the sharks and other newfound species.)

In addition to the two types of walking epaulette sharks, the researchers discovered 22 species of other fish, 20 species of hard corals, and 8 kinds of shrimp all believed new to science. (Related: "'Lost World' Found in Indonesia Is Trove of New Species" [February 2006].)

The new species were found during two recent expeditions to the Bird's Head Seascape, a distinctive peninsula on the northwestern end of Indonesia's Papua province that is already renowned for its marine biodiversity (map of Indonesia).

"It's an incredible place in both the number of species and the abundance of marine wildlife," said Roger McManus, senior director for global marine conservation at the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Conservation International, which led the expeditions.

The Missouri-size region is home to more than 1,200 types of reef fishes and nearly 600 species of hard corals. Whales, sea turtles, crocodiles, giant clams, manta rays, and dugongs also ply the peninsula's waters.

"We knew this was an area important for marine diversity," said Sebastian Troeng, director of regional marine programs for Conservation International.

"We hadn't expected that over 50 new species would be found in those two surveys. It is quite amazing."

New Species

The two new shark species are particularly exciting, Troeng says. (Watch video of the "walking" sharks and other new species in the region.)

The sharks are about 3 to 4 feet (1 to 1.2 meters) long and walk along the shallow reef flats on their fins, preying on shrimp, crabs, snails, and small fish.

"If they get spooked they can swim away, but the thing that stands out is their walking over the bottom," Troeng said.

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