Megamouth sharks are incredibly rare; so much so that only 63 confirmed sightings have been reported worldwide since their discovery in 1976. Now, it seems we can add another specimen to the slow-growing list, as a 5-meter-long (16 ft) behemoth just washed ashore in the Philippines.
The carcass was found by fishermen early in the morning on January 27 in Marigondon, a port in Pio Duran, Albay. Nonie Enolva, head of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources-Regional Emergency Stranding Response Team, told Inquirer that the animal was wounded and missing its tail (caudal fin). At the moment, it is unclear how the shark died, but Enolva believes it may have been trapped in a fishing net. Scientists will examine the specimen further to establish the cause of death, but until then the details of the animal are scant.
This isn’t the first time that a megamouth has turned up in the Philippines; in fact, this country has the second highest number of sightings after Japan, according to Earth Touch News. Just last year, a 5.5-meter (18 ft) shark, weighing some 500 kilograms (1,100 lb), was caught alive in a fisherman’s net in Cagayan de Oro, although it died shortly afterward.
The megamouth shark (Megachasma pelagios) is an enigmatic species, among one of the rarest sharks in the world. After the first specimen was captured almost 40 years ago, scientists had to establish not only a new species, but a new shark family and genus, too. While their bulbous heads and staggering 50 rows of (tiny) teeth on each jaw may give them a slightly frightening appearance, these slow-moving marine giants are filter-feeders, just like basking sharks and whale sharks. Scientists attribute their poor swimming abilities to their “flabby” body, soft fins and asymmetrical tail.
Little is known about the behavior of these elusive sharks, but two separate observations have helped provide scientists with a limited amount of information. The 6th specimen ever observed, a 5-meter-long male, was tagged and tracked for two days around California back in 1990, revealing that these animals probably spend most of the day in deep waters before ascending to midwater depths at nighttime. The second important observation was the 13th megamouth to be spotted and was attacked by sperm whales, suggesting these sharks may serve as prey for sperm whales, which usually fill up on a diet of squid.
[Via Earth Touch News, Inquirer and Florida Museum of Natural History]