Sharks have a bad rap – blame Jaws and, more recently, The Meg. But if anything is going to undo the damage of years and years of shark monster movies, it is five minutes' worth of footage featuring a ginormous shark nursery and the hundreds of adorable blackmouth catsharks that call it their home.
The discovery was made by a team of marine scientists and a remotely operated vehicle – nicknamed "Holland 1" – exploring the coral reefs in cold-water habitats 320 kilometers (200 miles) off the Irish coast. The rover was filming in one of Ireland's six offshore Special Areas of Conservation, which are designated by the European Union to protect vulnerable habitats, when it stumbled across the shark nursery.
"We are delighted to report the discovery of a rare shark nursery on a scale not previously documented in Irish waters," David O’Sullivan, Chief Scientist on the SeaRover survey, told audiences at the INFOMAR Seabed Mapping Seminar in Kinsale, Ireland, on November 8.
"This discovery shows the significance of documenting sensitive marine habitats, and will give us a better understanding of the biology of these beautiful animals and their ecosystem function in Ireland’s Biologically Sensitive Area."
The vast majority of the sharks you see in the footage are blackmouth catsharks (Galeus melastomus), a deepsea-living species that can be found across the northeast Atlantic Ocean. You can also spot the rarer and more mysterious sailfin roughshark (Oxynotus paradoxus) sneaking around. The latter is so uncommon that the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists it as "data deficient", which means there just isn't enough information about it to estimate its population numbers.
Talking to The Guardian, O'Sullivan described the discovery as a "eureka" moment. "It was incredible, real David Attenborough stuff," he said. "Very, very little is known on a global scale about deep-sea shark nurseries."
Scientists are calling the site a nursery because of the thousands upon thousands of egg cases (aka "mermaid's purses") believed to belong to the blackmouth catsharks littering the ocean floor, tucked away in coral skeletons and exposed carbonate rock 750 meters (2,500 feet) below the ocean's surface.
Disappointingly, no pups have been caught on camera just yet but the team plans to return during hatching season – and we have our fingers crossed for a sequel featuring baby sharks front and center.
Rare shark nursery discovered - SeaRover 2018. marineinstituteIRL/YouTube