What if Mozambique found a new species of Hammerhead?

Posted on: November 14th, 2013 by Hannah Darrin
Hammerhead in Tofo

Photo by Libby Bowles

A new hammerhead shark species was discovered in the beginning of November. University of South Carolina researcher Joe Quattro and his team discovered the Carolina hammerhead, Sphyrna gilberti. Their research on the scalloped hammerhead (Sphyrna lewini) led them to find some anomalies within their individual sharks, which led them to their discovery.

One of these differences was the number of vertebrae, and x-rays were able to show this feature. The Carolina hammerhead has 10 fewer vertebrae than their closest relative. DNA samples also defined this new cryptic species. In fact, DNA amongst all scalloped hammerhead populations show that there can be levels of variation and it is even possible that there may be a new Indo-Pacific species of hammerhead.

In terms of conservation this means that protecting certain vulnerable animals is even more important. There is still much that we don’t know about sharks, and their populations are dwindling. There is perhaps less than 10% of original baseline stocks, of the well studied and CITES protected, scalloped hammerhead. The Carolina hammerheads, as well as future species yet to be discovered, stand less of a chance for survival if protection is not implemented and enforced now.

In Mozambique there are three known species of hammerhead sharks. The great, scalloped and smooth: within those species there could be distinct populations that are unknown to scientists.

CITES, in Bangkok, earlier this year afforded international trade protection for each of these species of hammerhead shark as well as the two species of manta rays and the oceanic white tip. Due to a lack in visible differences between potential new hammerhead sharks, all species will be blanketed by the trade legislation. Which is important so as to preserve biodiversity; or the complexity of the marine ecosystems.

If you see incidents of hammerhead shark catches, be certain to photograph the head and fins of the shark, so researchers may identify the species. It is illegal if these fins or jaws cross international boarders. So please, keep your Eyes on the Horizon, help us help Mozambique.

Quattro JM et al. 2013. Sphyrna gilberti sp. nov., a new hammerhead shark (Carcharhiniformes, Sphyrnidae) from the western Atlantic Ocean. Zootaxa, vol. 3702, no. 2; doi: 10.11646/zootaxa.3702.2.5

Shiffman, D. 11/11/13 “What does the new species of hammerhead mean for conservation?