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Study: Four new walking shark species discovered

Scientists in Australia have discovered four new species of walking sharks that use their fins to traverse the ocean floor. Photo by Mark Erdmann/The University of Queensland/Website 
Scientists in Australia have discovered four new species of walking sharks that use their fins to traverse the ocean floor. Photo by Mark Erdmann/The University of Queensland/Website 

Jan. 22 (UPI) -- Scientists in Australia have discovered four new species of shark that use their fins to walk across the ocean floor.

The new shark species were discovered in the waters off northern Australia and New Guinea as part of a 12-year study with Conservation International, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, the Florida Museum of Natural History and others, The University of Queensland in Australia said in a release.

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"At less than a meter long on average, walking sharks present no threat to people but their ability to withstand low oxygen environments and walk on their fins gives them a remarkable edge over their prey of small crustaceans and mollusks," said Dr. Christine Dudgeon, the study's lead author.

The discovery brings the total number of sharks with the ability to so-called walk to nine but the features of these newly discovered sharks are unique and are not shared with their closest relatives, Dudgeon said.

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"Data suggests the new species evolved after the sharks moved away from their original population, became genetically isolated in new areas and develop into new species," she 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 2 million years ago."

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More research, she said, would help to determine why the area off northern Australia and New Guinea is teeming with biodiversity, including species of sharks that have the ability to walk.

"We believe that are more walking shark species still waiting to be discovered," she said.

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