"The discovery proves that modern sharks have remarkable evolutionary staying power," said the study's co-author

By Ashley Boucher
January 24, 2020 12:15 AM
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Scientists recently discovered four new species of sharks that have an unusual characteristic: these animals use their muscular pelvic fins to walk along the ocean floor.

Researchers initially knew of only one walking species, however, while studying the select group, they stumbled upon four new ones.

In the 12-year study, the scientists took samples of DNA from that first species, discovering four new ones in the process, CNN reported.

The scientists also found that the sharks have been “walking” around for at least nine million years, when they branched off from their nearest ancestor.

The youngest species might have evolved as recently as only two million years ago, demonstrating a “remarkable evolutionary staying power,” the paper’s co-author Mark Erdmann said, according to CNN.

“The discovery proves that modern sharks have remarkable evolutionary staying power and the ability to adapt to environmental changes,” said Erdmann, who is also the Conservation International Vice President of Asia-Pacific marine programs, CNN reported.

Walking sharks
Conservation International

The currently known species of walking sharks live in eastern Indonesia, New Guinea, and some areas of Australia.

Erdmann said that the latest discoveries could help conservation efforts in the area, he wrote in Conservation International.

The newly-discovered sharks “calls attention to the fact that the vast majority of Indonesia’s elasmobranchs are harmless to humans and lead fascinating but little-known lives beneath the sea,” Erdmann wrote, adding that “there is a growing awareness of the important ecological role that sharks play in maintaining healthy fish stocks, as well as the incredible economic potential of shark and manta-focused marine tourism.”

A video of the animals shared by Conservation International shows the sharks moving quickly along the ocean floor, where they forage for food under rocks and coral.

Erdmann is hoping to add some of the sharks to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, CNN reported.

“A global recognition of the need to protect walking sharks will help ensure they thrive providing benefits for marine ecosystems and to local communities through the sharks’ value as tourism assets,” he said, according to the outlet.

“It’s essential that local communities, governments and the international public continue working to establish marine protected areas to help ensure our ocean’s biodiversity continues to flourish.”