Wednesday, 2 August 2006

Sharks the herald anglers bring

Uncovering a new species in Australia is usually no big deal. You don't even have to go into the bush and look for them yourself. A quick search through the collections in any of the major natural history museums or herbaria will turn up species yet to be described. So many unnamed taxa, so few systematists, so little time.

But new sharks are a different ... er ... kettle of fish. You don't see them every day. Last month, CSIRO elasmobranch expert Peter Last and his colleagues from Western Australian Fisheries and the Iziko Museum in Cape Town described an unknown species of wobbegong from Western Australia.

Wobbegongs or carpet sharks (Orectolobidae) are sluggish, bottom-dwelling sharks of the central Indo-Pacific. Instead of hunting prey, they rest on the sea floor, where their fringes and tassels and mottled coloration camouflage them against rocks and algae, and they wait for food to come to them.

The new species, Orectolobus hutchinsi, lives on the continental shelf from 10 m down to a little over 100 m. It occurs only in Western Australia from Coral Bay (north of Shark Bay) to Groper Bluff at the western end of the Great Australian Bight.

It co-exists with two more widely-distributed commercial species—the spotted wobbegong (Orectolobus maculatus and the ornate wobbegong O. ornatus. Specimens of O. hutchinsi have no commercial value but pop up as incidental catch.

Read more
Last, P.R., Chidlow, J.A. & Compagno, L.J.V. (2006). A new wobbegong shark, Orectolobus hutchinsi n. sp. (Orectolobiformes: Orectolobidar) from southwestern Australia. Zootaxa 1239: 35–48.

No comments: