There’s a lot we don’t know about life in the oceans of our planet. Rare species inhabit deep waters and new areas are discovered all the time, but sometimes, the only clues for understanding what lies beneath the waves are when they wash up on our shores. In the Dipaculao, Aurora region of the Philippines, a super rare megamouth shark (Megachasma pelagios) has washed up dead, with one dead young shark found next to her and a further six pups inside. This is, unfortunately, the first-ever record of a pregnant individual of this species.
Megamouth sharks were only discovered in 1976; they are filter feeders like whale sharks (Rhincodon typus) and basking sharks (Cetorhinus maximus) and can weigh up to 1215 kilograms (2,700 pounds). Only around 120 individuals have been seen or captured since their discovery and researchers know precious little about their ecology and life history.
The mother megamouth was found on November 14, measuring an impressive 5.6 meters in length (18.4 feet), whilst the seven total pups measured between 165 and 183.5 centimeters long (65 and 72.2 inches). It is not yet clear what caused the stranding and death of the sharks, but AA Yaptinchay at Marine Wildlife Watch of the Philippines, who oversaw the necropsies, told New Scientist that sharks “usually expel their pups or eggs when they are captured or stranded” due to stress. Yaptinchay also reported that the mother showed no signs of injuries caused by boats or fishing equipment.
As unfortunate as the death of the mother megamouth shark and her pups is, it is hoped that the necropsies will yield more information about the physiology and lifestyle of this elusive fish species. Earlier this year, scientists were amazed to observe two megamouth sharks, filmed from a fishing boat, likely engaging in a courtship event.