Just when you thought it was safe to stop memorizing taxonomic lists of Sphyrnidae, (the family of sharks to which hammerheads belong) news from South Carolina means that amateur ichthyologists have yet another shark to study. Researcher Joe Quattro of the University of South Carolina has discovered, after years of research into coastal basins and rivers where many shark species pup their young, a new species of hammerhead shark. This species evaded discovery as it is superficially identical to a more common form of scalloped hammerhead, however Quattro was shocked to find that DNA testing demonstrated that the otherwise similar pups had different DNA signatures. Further study into previously published papers found that another researcher had uncovered a scalloped hammerhead that had ten less vertebrates than expected. These two studies, in combination with 54 individual specimens that demonstrate that this is not simply some kind of fluke, have allowed for Quattro to name this shark. The scientific name of this new shark is Sphyrna gilberti, but those not wishing to stumble over Latin phraseology over the water-cooler tomorrow can call this creature the Carolina hammerhead shark.
Quattro’s research has also found that this species is quite rare, so those wishing to see a Carolina hammerhead shark in its native habitat might be in for quite the challenge. Outside of South Carolina there have only been five other samples found by scientists. This rarity is exacerbated by the precipitous decline of the shark population worldwide. Since the 1970’s shark numbers have plummeted up to 90% in some areas, partially due to overfishing caused by the demand of the delicacy shark-fin soup. This dish is a status symbol in some parts of the world, particularly in China, and increasing wealth has led to an increased demand for the savory treat. However, the environmentalist group WildAid has noted consumption of this soup has declined and there are many efforts internationally to put a halt to shark overfishing. As experts estimate that over 100 million sharks are fished out of the oceans every year, these efforts cannot come too soon. As an apex predator sharks are necessary to keeping the oceans in balance, a position that is now threatened as almost half of shark species are nearing potential extinction according to a study produced by the IUCN Shark Specialist Group. Quattro has expressed concerns that this may mean that the just-found shark will soon be found to be extinct.
The Carolina hammerhead shark is the second new, but very rare, species of shark discovered this year. In Indonesia a new member of so-called ‘walking sharks,’ named after their habit of moving their fins like legs while near the sea floor and not after a possible resemblance to a character popularized by Chevy Chase, was discovered off of a hard to reach island. This two and a half foot long shark was named Hemiscyllium halmahera.