We all love the discovery of a new, quirky species. Okay, sure – parasitoid wasps have cool names, but their ability to lay eggs inside living caterpillars, to ultimately have their hatched young eat their way out, is just too damn grim. Fortunately, we now have an adorable new species of shark to balance out this recent horror.
Meet Squalus clarkae. A member of the pre-existing Squalus genus – famed, rather sadly, for their very slow reproductive rates and low genetic diversity typified by other deepwater sharks – this new critter was found swimming around in the Gulf of Mexico, with its range extending to the western part of the Atlantic Ocean.
This new species, which is no more than 70 centimeters (28 inches) in length, was actually suffering from a case of missing identity. As the team explain in their Zootaxa paper, it was previously thought to belong to the species S. mitsukurii, a dogfish found in Japanese waters.
Genetic sequencing of this specimen, along with three closely related species, revealed that the shark enjoying the Gulf of Mexico’s azure swimlanes was, in fact, its own distinct species. The morphology of S. clarkae is also somewhat idiosyncratic, with it having a longer body, as well as having differently shaped and proportioned fins.
The discovery of a new shark is always fun, but, perhaps more significantly, it boosts our cognizance of marine biodiversity in the region. Climate change, pollution, and overfishing all play a role in reducing this, so knowing what’s actually out there helps experts to better constrain the state of the ecosystem.
As opined entirely fairly by Live Science, this shark looks a little like an anime character thanks to its cartoonishly sizeable eyes. More important, though, is how the shark got its name.
Dr Eugenie Clark, widely recognized to be a groundbreaking ichthyologist (fish expert), passed away back in 2015, aged 92. Dubbed the “Shark Lady”, a rather touching obituary by National Geographic noted that she first fell in love with sharks as a child, with her nose squashed up against an aquarium tank.
As a researcher, she uncovered plentiful revelations about sharks; as a science communicator, she told the world not to fear sharks; as a diver, she pioneered new techniques and trialed novel equipment.
“She is the mother of us all,” co-author Toby Daly-Engel, an assistant professor at the Florida Institute of Technology (FIT), said in a statement. “She was not just the first female shark biologist, she was one of the first people to study sharks.”
It was a no-brainer then that the team – including the nonprofit marine conservation group Oceana, Florida State University, and FIT – decided to bestow the new species with her name. It’s also nicknamed Genie’s dogfish for good measure.