A walking shark, which uses its fins like legs, has just been discovered taking a stroll off a remote Indonesian island, according to the Indonesian Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries.
Scientists from Conservation International and the Western Australian Museum made the unusual find. Their timing could not have been better.
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"The epaulette (long-tailed carpet) shark, Hemiscyllium halmahera, uses its fins to walk across the ocean floor in search of small fish and crustaceans," Emmeline Johansen of Conservation International's Asia Pacific Field Division, told Discovery News.
"The discovery comes at a time when Indonesia is significantly ramping up its efforts to protect shark and ray species that are now considered vulnerable to extinction, including whale sharks and manta rays."
The shark, which sports distinctive spots over most of its narrow body, lives in waters off of the eastern Indonesian island of Halmahera. Females lay small egg cases under coral ledges. The baby sharks hatch, coming into the world small, and generally lead a sedentary life with very limited dispersal.
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This species is one of just nine known walking sharks in the entire world. All have very restricted ranges that do not cross deep water. For instance, H. halmahera is found only on Halmahera, H. freycineti is found only in Raja Ampat, and H. galei is located only in Cendrawasih Bay in West Papua.
Six of the nine walking sharks come from Indonesia, a country that's home to at least 218 overall species of sharks and rays. It also hosts well over 75 percent of the world's coral species.
The rocky sea floor terrain is no problem for the walking shark, as you can see in this video.
"After nearly three decades as the world's largest exporter of dried shark fins and other shark and ray products, Indonesia is now focusing on the tremendous economic potential of its sharks and rays as living assets," Johansen said. "In the last six months' alone, two of the country's top marine tourism destinations, Raja Ampat and West Manggarai (home of the famed Komodo National Park) have declared their waters as fully protected shark and ray sanctuaries."
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Agus Dermawan, head of the Indonesian Ministry's Marine Conservation Directorate, added, "There is a growing awareness in our country of the important ecological role that sharks play in maintaining healthy fish stocks and especially in the tremendous economic potential of shark and manta-focused marine tourism.
(Image: Conservation International/Mark Erdmann)