Sharks are one of the oldest species on the planet, having honed their sleek, aquatic-killer image only over millions of years of evolution -- and as if that alone wasn't enough to strike a bit of fear in us would-be oceangoers, it turns out sharks getting even more specialized. For the first time ever, researchers have detected not one, not two, but 57 hybrid sharks lurking off the the coast of Australia. While the thought of new, possibly extra-powerful sharks may leave some people feeling less than enthusiastic about heading into the water, marine biologists say that these offspring of two genetically distinct species actually represent an extraordinary and totally unprecedented discovery in the world of sharks.
The University of Queensland reports that in five different spots along a 1,200 miles stretch of Australia's eastern coastline, researchers found nearly 60 sharks that were the product of interbreeding between two separate, albiet similarly named species: common blacktip sharks (C. limbatus) and Australian blacktip sharks (Carcharhinus tilstoni). Discovering just a handfull of hybrid sharks would be enough to excite ocean scientists, but what they ran across instead proved that it was no fluke.
"To find 57 hybrids along 2000km of coastline is unprecedented," says Dr. Jennifer Ovenden from the Queensland Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries.
So what could drive this seemingly prolific spawning of hybrids among sharks? Well, according to Ovenden, the need to keep up with rising ocean temperatures may have led to the rise of this new, presumably more advantageous hybrid shark varieties.
"Hybridization could enable the sharks to adapt to environmental change as the smaller Australian black tip currently favours tropical waters in the north while the larger common black tip is more abundant in sub-tropical and temperate waters along the south-eastern Australian coastline."
The findings of a new hybrid species of shark goes to show just how versatile life can be in dealing with the ecosystem altering forces of climate change -- proving yet again that within the depths of the world's oceans and its most keenly adapted inhabitants, there may be no shortage of natural marvels and awesome phenomena left to be discovered.