A new species of walking shark has been identified in the reefs of Indonesia, a discover conservationists hope will grow biotourism interest in the area.
"This is the third walking shark species to be described from eastern Indonesia in the past six years, which highlights our tremendous shark and ray biodiversity," said shark expert Fahmi. "We now know that six of the nine known walking shark species occur in Indonesian waters, and these animals are diver favorites with excellent potential to help grow our marine tourism industry."
The shark, identified as the epaulette shark, or Hemiscyllium halmahera, was first photographed in 2008 and formally identified as a new species in the journal Aqua.
Walking sharks like the epaulette shark uses its pectoral and pelvic fins to move across the sea bottom while foraging for food. A distinctive pattern of brown spots on its head distinguishes the epaulette shark from other working sharks.
Indonesia has been the largest exporter of dried shark fins and other similar animals such as rays and skates, but the economic benefit of these creatures alive -- up to $1.9 million in over the course of its lifetime, rather than $40 to $200 in meat -- has given the government incentive to protect them.
"If you asked me a year ago about the long-term future of shark populations in Indonesia, I probably would have responded: 'Bleak,'" wrote Dr, Mark Erdmann for the Conservation International Blog. "But what an amazing difference a year can make!"