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New walking shark discovered in Indonesia? It's not the first

Scientists have discovered the third known species of walking shark in Indonesia. Which means that there are, apparently, other walking shark species. And also, that sharks walk.

Time to take a moment to let that sink in. Meanwhile, watch the video above. The new species, called Hemiscyllium halmahera, is a type of epaulette shark described in the journal Aqua: the International Journal of Ichthyology. The shark lives off the coral reefs along the coast of Halmahera, a remote Indonesian island.

"Its features include a general brown coloration with numerous clusters of mainly 2-3 dark polygonal spots,” according to the dry abstract, which doesn’t really delve into the fact that it walks on rocks.

Epaulette sharks, so named for the dramatic badge-like spot behind the pectoral fin, use their fins to help navigate the uneven environment of a coral reef.

Some researchers have studied its gait to try and understand how sea creatures might have first evolved into landlubbers, according to the ReefQuest Centre for Shark Research.

“The wriggling gait of the Epaulette Shark has been studied as a model of the probable limb movements used by the first tetrapods (four-footed vertebrates) to clamber from the sea onto land,” the center says. “This research provides evidence supporting the evolutionary theory that the paired limb movements necessary for terrestrial locomotion predate the first amphibians.”

The discovery of the newly named shark highlights the plight of sharks in Indonesia, where they are heaviliy hunted for their meat, says Conservation International.

“For nearly three decades, Indonesia has led the world in the export of dried shark fins and other products from elasmobranchs (sharks, fins and skates),” study coauthor Mark Erdmann wrote in a blog for the nonprofit organization.

Finding the new epaulette shark is a promising sign that the tide is turning and that new environmental protections may be working, Erdmann said.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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