FOUR new species of shark that use their fins to walk along the seabed have been discovered by scientists.
The ornately patterned sharks scuttle in shallow reefs off the coast of Australia in search of small prey, such as crabs.
They were identified off the coast of northern Australia and the island of Papua New Guinea during a 12-year study.
Walking sharks were the top predator on reefs during low tides, when they used their fins to walk in very shallow water.
Dr Christine Dudgeon, of Queensland University, said: “At less than a metre 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 molluscs.”
“These unique features are not shared with their closest relatives the bamboo sharks or more distant relatives in the carpet shark order including wobbegongs and whale sharks.”
Researchers spent years sampling the DNA of the only known walking shark species to find out when they evolved.
The findings reported in Marine and Freshwater Research added four new species to the list, almost doubling the total number of known walking sharks to nine.
They occupy their own separate region.
It’s believed the newly found sharks have been walking – or something close to it – for at least nine million years.
The most recent species evolved two million years ago, meaning it the mostly recently evolved shark on Earth.
Sharks are older than the dinosaurs, ruling the seas for up to 400million years, so to find that they’re still evolving 398million years later is remarkable.
Dr Dudgeon said: “Data suggests the new species evolved after the sharks moved away from their original population, became genetically isolated in new areas and developed into new species.
“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 two million years ago.
“We believe there are more walking shark species still waiting to be discovered.”
Dr Dudgeon said future research would help researchers to better understand why the region was home to some of the greatest marine biodiversity on the planet.
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In other news, Britain’s basking sharks were pictured in rare photos last year using a revolutionary sea drone.
Killer whales off the coast of South Africa have learned to kill great white sharks by squeezing them “like tubes of toothpaste”.
And, rare footage of “genius” dolphins has revealed how they use hundreds of sounds to talk to each other.
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