- Scientists have just described a new species of shark from the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico and the western Atlantic Ocean.
- The new species was formally named Squalus clarkae or Genie’s Dogfish, in honor of the late marine biologist Eugenie Clark, best known for her pioneering work on sharks, which earned her the nickname of “Shark Lady.”
- The newly described big-eyed shark belongs to the dogfish family, a group of small sharks that live primarily in deep waters and reproduce slowly.
Scientists have just described a new species of shark from the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico and the western Atlantic Ocean.
The new species was formally named Squalus clarkae, or Genie’s Dogfish, in honor of famed U.S. marine biologist Eugenie Clark, whose pioneering work in marine conservation has inspired numerous scientists, including those involved in the new study published in Zootaxa.
Clark was best known for her work studying sharks, including her discovery of sleeping sharks that dispelled the myth that sharks need to keep swimming to breathe. She was also the first scientist to develop “test tube” babies in fish; discovered several fish species; and pioneered research into shark behavior, becoming an outspoken advocate against the public perception of sharks as mindless man-eating machines. Her lifelong work with sharks earned her the fond nickname of “Shark Lady.” Clark passed away in 2015 at the age of 92.
“Dr. Clark was a trailblazer for women in shark biology,” Mariah Pfleger, a marine scientist at Washington, D.C.-based conservation nonprofit Oceana, and the lead author of the new study, said in a statement. “Her work showed me that it was possible to make my mark in a male-dominated field. This paper is a perfect example of how her career has influenced multiple generations of women in science: the first author is a woman who graduated from a woman-led lab.”
“She is the mother of us all,” added co-author Toby Daly-Engel, an assistant professor at the Florida Institute of Technology, U.S. “She was not just the first female shark biologist, she was one of the first people to study sharks.”
The newly described big-eyed shark belongs to the dogfish family, a group of small-sized sharks that live primarily in deep waters and reproduce slowly, with pregnancies lasting up to two years. The new species was initially labeled as another dogfish species, the shortspine spurdog (Squalus mitsukurii), native to the waters around Japan. But detailed genetic analyses and investigation of the shark’s physical traits confirmed that the creature was a species new to science.
“Deep-sea sharks are all shaped by similar evolutionary pressure, so they end up looking a lot alike,” Daly-Engel said. “So we rely on DNA to tell us how long a species has been on its own, evolutionarily, and how different it is.”
The researchers say that given that many fisheries are beginning to venture farther and deeper into oceans, identifying species that occur in deep oceans is the first step to conserving deep-sea creatures.
“This type of research is essential to the conservation and management of sharks, which currently face a multitude of threats, from overfishing and bycatch, to the global shark fin trade,” Pfleger said. “The first step to successfully conserving these species that live in deeper waters, like Genie’s Dogfish, is finding out what is down there in the first place.”
Pfleger, M. O., Grubbs, R. D., Cotton, C. F., & Daly-Engel, T. S. (2018). Squalus clarkae sp. nov., a new dogfish shark from the Northwest Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico, with comments on the Squalus mitsukurii species complex. Zootaxa, 4444(2), 101-119.