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Watch as new species of 'walking shark' take a stroll on seabed

Monday, January 27th 2020, 12:54 pm - These tropical sharks use their fins to 'walk'

Four new species of tropical shark that use their fins to walk have been discovered off the coasts of northern Australia and New Guinea during a 12-year study.

The study was carried out by Conservation International alongside the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), Florida Museum of Natural History, the Indonesian Institute of Sciences and Indonesian Ministry of Marine Affair and Fisheries.

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These ornately patterned sharks are no threat to humans, preying instead upon small fish and invertebrates in the shallow waters.

The sharks "walk" using their pectoral and pelvic fins, which allows them to forage for food under rocks and coral

Genetic research revealed that walking sharks are the most recently evolved sharks on the planet, according to Conservation International, evolving just 9 million years ago, making them the "youngest" sharks on the planet.

"Data suggests the new species evolved after the sharks moved away from their original population, became genetically isolated in new areas and developed into new species," Dr Christine Dudgeon of the University of Queensland said in a press release.

Getty Images: Walking shark Hemiscyllium GETTY: Walking shark in South East Asia - stock photo Hemiscyllium halmahera, close up shot, Night Dive

The researchers have found previously that most walking sharks spend their entire lives on the same reef as where they hatched, speciation can occur if the populations slowly expanded their range by walking or swimming.

However, in the case of this species they found that they may have hitched a ride on an island that is moving due to tectonic plates shifting.

Dudgeon explains, "They may have moved by swimming or walking on their fins, but it's also possible they 'hitched' a ride on reefs moving westward across the top of New Guinea, about two million years ago."

This discovery may help researchers better understand why the region was home to such rich marine biodiversity. The four new species bring the total number of known walking sharks to nine.

"We believe there are more walking shark species still waiting to be discovered," Dudgeon said.


(Production on video at the top of this article by Polly Rider)

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