Scientists announced earlier this week that they had discovered two new species of deep water sawsharks, which are rarely seen

By Maria Pasquini
March 19, 2020 03:00 PM
Simon Weigmann

Shark Week may still be months away, but fans of the aquatic creatures have something to celebrate.

Scientists announced earlier this week that they had discovered two new species of deepwater sharks, which are named for their distinctive “saw-like” appearances and are rarely seen.

“They belong to a family of sharks known as sawsharks, named for their saw-like rostrums (elongated noses) that bear many sharp, needle-like teeth,” a press release on the discovery, which was published in the PLOS One journal on Wednesday, explained.

One species, the Pliotrema kajae (Kaja’s six-gilled sawshark) was discovered off the coast of Madagascar, while the other, Pliotrema annae (Anna’s six-gilled sawshark) was found in Tanzania.

While conducting fieldwork on sawfishes in Madagascar with the Save Our Seas foundation in 2017, Dr. Ruth Leeney — a co-author of the study announcing the new species — discovered the first specimens of Kaja’s sixgill sawshark.

“I got a report that a fisherman had caught a sawfish, but when the photograph appeared in my e-mail the next day, I could see that it wasn’t a sawfish, but a pair of sawsharks,” Leeney said in the press release. “Although it wasn’t the species I was searching for in Madagascar, it wasn’t every day that I had the chance to study these rarely seen sharks.”

The new discoveries bring the number of known sawshark species to 10.

A scientist holds holotype of Kaja’s sixgill sawshark
Simon Weigmann

Sawsharks subsist on fish, crustaceans, and squid, and use their sharp snouts to kill and break apart their prey, study author Andrew Temple told CNN.

“They are so perfectly adapted to their environment and the world around them that they have existed, virtually unchanged, for millions of years,” he added, noting that sawsharks can reach up to 5 feet in length. “They were around before trees.”

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Despite the new discoveries, scientists have yet to learn much about sawsharks — including whether individual species should be considered endangered.

“The region is widely understudied, with the majority of what we know coming from work in fisheries,” Temple told CNN, noting that as many of the fisheries are small, it’s incredibly difficult to keep tabs on all of their catches, “which is why seemingly uncommon species like these might often go undiscovered for some time.”

The Save Our Seas Foundation, which sponsored the paper, is also committed to making research about sharks and rays more accessible.

“The Save Our Seas Foundation strives to ensure a stable future for threatened marine life by supporting innovative research projects around the world,” SOSF CEO Dr. James Lea said in the press release. “The work of project leaders like Ruth and her colleagues is critical for achieving this goal. It is remarkable that we are still discovering new species of shark, but the fact that we are doing so through fisheries highlights how quickly we will need to learn if we want to protect these vulnerable animals.”