New shark species raises threat specter

March 26, 2012 at 4:56 PM
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DAVIE, Fla., March 26 (UPI) -- Identity confusion between a new as-yet unnamed shark species and its look-alike cousin -- the hammerhead shark -- threatens both species, U.S. scientists say.

The new look-alike hammerhead species, first discovered off the eastern United States, has been found more than 4,300 miles away near the coast of southern Brazil proving the unnamed species is widespread, researchers at Nova Southeastern University in Florida reported Monday.

The look-alike species may face the same fishery threats as the real, endangered scalloped hammerhead, which is being fished in an unsustainable manner for its highly prized fins, researchers said.

"It's a classic case of long-standing species misidentification that not only casts further uncertainty on the status of the real scalloped hammerhead but also raises concerns about the population status of this new species," researcher Mahmood Shivji said.

Tens of millions of sharks are being killed worldwide for their fins and meat, resulting in dramatic reductions in shark populations, he said.

"It's very important to officially recognize, name and learn more about this new hammerhead species and the condition of its populations through systematic surveys," Shivji said. "Without management intervention to curtail its inadvertent killing, we run the risk that overfishing could eradicate an entire shark species before its existence is even properly acknowledged."

Genetic assessments have shown at least 7 percent of the sharks in U.S. waters originally thought to be scalloped hammerheads are in fact the newly-discovered species, suggesting the population of the endangered real scalloped hammerhead in U.S. waters is probably smaller than originally thought, researchers said.

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