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Mystery Sharks Caught in Australia Identified as Mandarin Dogfish

Mar 01, 2013 08:25 AM EST

Researchers have identified the two sharks, discovered in the Australian waters two years ago, as mandarin dogfish.

It was a big surprise for the scientists, as mandarin dogfish (Cirrhigaleus barbifer) has never been spotted in Australia earlier. This is the first record of the species from Australia. The mandarin dogfish is a rare species of shark that are found only in the waters between Indonesia and Japan, and also in New Zealand.

The two sharks, a male and a pregnant female, were caught off Rottnest Island two years ago at a depth of 430 meters by local recreational fisherman Steve Downs. Downs was not able to recognize the sharks and so he contacted the Department of Fisheries, who then approached shark biologist Ryan Kempster, from the University of Western Australia's Oceans Institute, to identify the sharks.

Based on Kempster's investigation which included DNA sequencing, the sharks were identified as mandarin dogfish. "After two years of thorough investigation which included DNA sequencing, the sharks were identified as mandarin dogfish (Cirrhigaleus barbifer), a species never before seen in Australia," Kempster said in a statement. "This species was known previously to be found only between Indonesia and Japan, and also New Zealand."

While examining the female shark, Kempster and his colleagues found the marine animal had 22 unborn pups. It is only the second-ever recorded specimen of a pregnant female of this species. It was previously thought that the maximum number of pups that this species gives birth to is 10.

It is still not clear as to how these sharks appeared in Australia, far away from their normal habitat. Kempster believes that the sharks caught would not be the only ones from that area. He thinks a population of sharks could be living in the area for some time. 

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