New deep sea catshark discovered

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Scientists from California and the Smithsonian have described a new species of deep sea catshark from the Galapagos Islands.

The discovery was actually made in the 1990s during a series of dives between 1400-100 feet deep in a submersible off the Galapagos. Lead author John McCosker Chair of Aquatic Biology at the California Academy of Sciences collected seven specimens of the new catshark and observed them off a number off the islands.

Using research collections at the Academy and elsewhere as a basis for comparison, Academy Research Associate Douglas Long and Smithsonian Institution scientist Carole Baldwin worked with McCosker to confirm that the specimens did indeed represent a new species. The shark was named Bythaelurus giddingsi in honour of the retired underwater filmmaker Al Giddings.

The samples measured between 9-18" in length and were all immature. It is thought that adult sharks are slightly larger with chocolate-brown coloration and pale, irregularly distributed spots which are thought to be unique to each individual.

McCosker said: "The closest living relative of this species would be the swellshark, a shallow-water coastal species seen by scuba divers in California. They spend their life on the bottom and probably feed on other fishes and invertebrates. Their teeth are small and sharp and evolved to grasp their prey before engulfing it.

"The discovery of a new shark species is always interesting, particularly at this time when sharks are facing such incredible human pressure, Most deepwater shark species are not very susceptible to overfishing; however, since this catshark's range is restricted to the Galapagos, its population is likely limited in size, making it more susceptible than more widely distributed species."

For further information see: John E. McCosker, Douglas J. Long and Carole C. Baldwin. Description of a new species of deepwater catshark, Bythaelurus giddingsi sp. nov., from the Galápagos Islands (Chondrichthyes: Carcharhiniformes: Scyliorhinidae). Zootaxa, 2012.

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