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Scientists find four new walking shark species near northern Australia and New Guinea

Chris Ciaccia, January 28, 2020 6:30PM Fox News

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Walking shark hemiscyllium galei. Picture: Mark Erdmann media_cameraWalking shark hemiscyllium galei. Picture: Mark Erdmann

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Scientists have discovered four new species of walking sharks near northern Australia and New Guinea.

And though that sounds scary, the small size of the sharks mean it’s only little fish and other marine creatures that should be afraid.

The newly discovered species brings the total number of known walking shark species to nine.

University of Queensland’s Christine Dudgeon, the study’s lead author, believes they may have evolved after getting separated from their original population.

“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 Dudgeon said.

“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.”

New walking shark species discovered in reefs off Aussie coast

Despite their scary-sounding name, the ornately* patterned, 60cm-long walking sharks aren’t a threat to humans, Dr Dudgeon said.

They do “have a remarkable edge on their prey, small crustaceans and molluscs, due to their “ability to withstand low oxygen environments and walk on their fins,” she said.

The sharks are the top predator on reefs during low tides when they use their fins to walk in very shallow water.

“These unique features are not shared with their closest relatives the bamboo sharks or more distant relatives in the carpet shark order including wobbegongs and whale sharks,” explained Dr Dudgeon, who believes more walking sharks are yet to be discovered.

Hemiscyllium halmahera (credit: Mark Erdmann) media_cameraOne of the newly discovered species, Hemiscyllium halmahera. Picture: Mark Erdmann

The 12-year study by Conservation International, the CSIRO, Florida Museum of Natural History, the Indonesian Institute of Sciences and Indonesian Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries has been published in the CSIRO’s scientific journal Marine and Freshwater Research.

GLOSSARY

  • data: information
  • genetically: in a way that relates to origin or development
  • ornately: highly decorated

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QUICK QUIZ

  1. What do the scientists believe happened to bring about the evolution of these new species?
  2. How big are these sharks?
  3. What sort of environment do the sharks hunt in?
  4. What do the sharks hunt? How?
  5. Does Dr Dudgeon think there are more species of walking sharks?

LISTEN TO THIS STORY

CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES
1. Name the shark
After reading about these new species of walking sharks, use your knowledge gained from reading the article and by looking at the pictures and work with a partner to give these sharks more creative names. Write down your names and reasons for the names and read out to the class

Time: allow 10 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Science, Critical and Creative thinking

2. Extension
In your own words, describe how a new species evolves.

Could this apply to other animals?

Time: allow 10 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Science, Critical and creative thinking

VCOP ACTIVITY
With a partner see if you can identify all the doing words/verbs in this text. Highlight them in yellow and then make a list of them all down your page. Now see if you and your partner can come up with a synonym for the chosen verb. Make sure it still makes sense in the context it was taken from.

Try to replace some of the original verbs with your synonyms and discuss if any are better and why.

HAVE YOUR SAY: What new species — real or imaginary — would you like to discover? What would you call it?
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will be published until approved by editors.

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