Rare shark caught by fishermen

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One of the rarest species of shark has been caught off the coast of Mexico.

The 3m long juvenile male Megamouth shark (Megachasma pelages) was caught by fishermen near the western Baja peninsula coast, in a region called Bahía de Vizcaín.

This is one of only 51 specimens to ever have been caught since the discovery of the species in 1976. The sharks have been caught around the world from Japan and Taiwan through to Australia, Ecuador and South Africa.

Strangely the boat that caught this shark caught another Megamouth specimen in 2006 in the same area; leading scientists to believe that these sharks may be seasonal visitors to the Baja Peninsula.

Omar Santana, a researcher for Ensenada-based CICESE science institute is quoted: "Although there is few scientific data collected, local fishermen assured us that they've caught other, even bigger Megamouth sharks before, so we believe this might mean this species can be part of the shark population that roams the western coasts of Baja."

The new specimen was taken to Ensenada, Mexico, where it was photographed and dissected in order for Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Mexican researchers to study the structure of its muscles and gills.

Although Megamouth sharks can grow to lengths of over 6m – making them the largest deep water fish in the world – they are slow swimmers and dive to depths of up to 500m to filter the plankton and krill they feed on. The only specimen ever caught alive was in 1990 when it was tagged and followed for three days.

Even though the Megamouth is very rare, the capture of this shark in the Baja Peninsula is an indicator of how ecologically important the region is.

Santana hopes this will encourage the Mexican authorities to improve marine species management and better regulate commercial fishing in the area.

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