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After more than a century, the smoothtooth blacktip shark has been rediscovered

smoothtooth blacktip shark

A smoothtooth blacktip shark discovered at a fish market in Kuwait. Image: Dr. Alec Moore

After his 1902 trip to Yemen, scholar and naturalist Wilhelm Hein returned with a variety of plants and animals, which he donated to the Vienna Museum. One of these specimens, a shark, sat unnoticed for more than 80 years. In 1985 it was identified as the first (and only known) specimen of Carcharhinus leiodon, the smoothtooth blacktip shark. Because no others had ever been found by scientists, Alec Moore, regional vice chair of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Shark Specialist Group’s Indian Ocean group, says that “some suspected it might be extinct or not a valid species.”

In 2008, during a Shark Conservation Society research expedition to Kuwait’s sharq fish market (the name is a coincidence, it means east in Arabic), Moore says that “amongst the many species of whaler shark was one which looked very similar, but different, to a couple of other species.” Later analysis revealed that although this specimen was more than 3,000 kilometers from where Hein caught his, this was a smoothtooth blacktip, the first new individual seen by scientists in over a century.

>>View a slide show of shark species at fish markets

These sharks are currently considered “Vulnerable” to extinction by on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, an assessment that was made before their rediscovery by Dr. Moore and his team. More recent studies in fish markets throughout the region have located 47 additional smoothtooth blacktip sharks, greatly increasing what scientists know about this species with and reported in a 2013 paper in Marine & Freshwater Research. The new study included some of the first data on how large smoothtooth blacktips can grow, how many pups they can bear and their habitat usage as well as other information needed for an effective conservation and management plan in the future.

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