If you’re scared of sharks, you can always not go in the ocean. If you’re really scared of sharks, however, there are a few islands you should avoid as well, because there are places they sometimes come onto land. Footage of one doing just that has gone viral, although it’s probably too small and cute to put you off a visit. It’s not the first time something like this has been documented, but it’s still an amazing sight.
At least nine species of sharks are known to use their fins to move about in shallow water, and some of these make brief jaunts entirely onto land. One team was lucky enough to not just witness such an adventure, but get exceptionally clear footage of the whole thing.
The footage is from the documentary Island of the Walking Sharks, filmed on Papua New Guinea and hosted by Forrest Galante, as part of Shark Week on the Discovery Channel.
Since the teaser was released on Youtube it has faced some criticism on social media for gilding the lily a little. Galante claims “This is the first time in history one of the Papuan species has been documented walking,” prompting some pushback on Twitter.
As Kevin Connor noted in his thread, the walking behavior is sufficiently well known that Conservation International is working with locals in Indonesia and several research institutions to study it and the fascinating family history of the sharks that do it.
Previous footage shows an epaulette shark moving on land with even greater clarity, although in that case, it was more of a painful crawl to avoid being cooked by the Sun than a jaunt with a spring in its fins. Some people even keep them as pets.
Nevertheless, even if Galante hasn’t quite captured the scoop of the century, it’s still excellently clear footage of something 99 percent of the world probably didn’t know existed.
Most of the time when the sharks walk it is on the ocean bottom. Getting flat to the floor allows them to put their heads under rocks and corals to hunt for their prey, which can be small fish or invertebrates. Nine species of sharks living off New Guinea, Australia, and at least three Indonesian islands are known to walk in this way. Since four of these were only scientifically described in 2020, it’s likely there are more not yet found.
How many of these sharks actually come out of the water entirely is not known, but some of them are well adapted to making their way back to the ocean when caught by the tide going out.
Although the ancestor of land-dwelling vertebrates would have been a bony fish, rather than a shark, the walking sharks probably offer us the best chance we’ll get to see how something like this evolved.
Also, did we mention it's cute?