New Hammerhead Shark: 'Carolina' Species Has Unique Genetics

Monday, 11 Nov 2013 06:10 AM

By Michael Mullins

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The Carolina Hammerhead Shark, a rare, new species with a unique genetic code, has been discovered by scientists at the University of South Carolina.

Joe Quattro, an ichthyologist and biology professor in USC’s College of Arts and Sciences, led the team responsible for identifying the new species, which likely eluded prior discovery due to it being outwardly indistinguishable from the common scalloped hammerhead.

What differentiates the new species from other Hammerhead sharks is its unique genetic code that has two different genetic signatures in both the mitochondrial and nuclear genomes, the International Business Times reported.

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Quattro made the discovery while researching the genetic diversity of fish in the freshwater rivers of South Carolina as they that flow out into the ocean.

"South Carolina is a well-known pupping ground for several species of sharks, including the hammerhead," a statement from the USC read while announcing the discovery of the new species. "The female hammerhead will birth her young at the ocean-side fringes of the estuary; the pups remain there for a year or so, growing, before moving out to the ocean to complete their life cycle."

The elusive new species of Hammerhead seems to be concentrated in South Carolina's rivers and coastal waters, according to Quattro, who said through his university's press release that "out of three or four hundred specimens" tested "we’ve only seen five [with] tissue samples of the cryptic species" outside of South Carolina.

According to Quattro, the rarity of the new species' underscores the fragility of diversity shark which is largely impacted by human predation, Science Daily reported.

"The biomass of scalloped hammerheads off the coast of the eastern U.S. is less than 10 percent of what it was historically," Quattro said referring to the diminished shark populations that have been ever decreasing in recent decades. "Here, we’re showing that the scalloped hammerheads are actually two things. Since the cryptic species is much rarer than the lewini, God only knows what its population levels have dropped to."

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