Researchers from the Florida Institute of Technology have found a brand new shark species — a third type of sixgill shark — swimming in the warm waters of the Atlantic Ocean, according to a new study published in the journal Marine Biodiversity.
Before this discovery, researchers knew about two types of sixgill sharks that lived in the Indian and Pacific Oceans: the bluntnose and the big-eyed. After finding the new species, the team used genetic testing to confirm that it is indeed different from other sixgill types.
The Atlantic sixgill — known as the Hexanchus vitulus — can grow up to 6 feet long, which makes it smaller than its cousins. It has saw-like lower teeth as well as Sixgill slit — the feature that separates them from other five-gilled shark species. While the finding is interesting from a research standpoint, it is also significant in that it gives the sixgill species better chances of long-term survival.
The new species is one of the oldest animals on Earth. In fact, its ancestors date back nearly 250 million years. That means the ancient fish were around before dinosaurs ruled the Earth and survived numerous mass extinctions. However, as sixgill sharks live so deep below the ocean, they have been hard to study. The team hopes the new finding will shed more light on the species and give a better idea of their diversity across the world.
“Because we now know there are two unique species, we have a sense of the overall variation in populations of sixgills,” added Daly-Engel, according to The Hindu. “We understand that if we overfish one of them, they will not replenish from elsewhere in the world.”