In a very rare photographic capture, a shark is seen giving live birth.
The image was taken during a 2013 dive of a thresher shark giving birth, and is believed to the first picture ever of a free shark giving birth in the ocean. These are “elusive, vulnerable” fish, according to the journal Coral Reefs, and an exciting find for oceanographers everywhere.
Dr. Simon Oliver from The University of Chester said this was one of the most exciting moments of his career.
“We were doing a standard survey – out every day, making observations. One of [our team] is a photographer – Attila Kaszo. He took the picture of the shark, and when he processed the image and showed it to me, I freaked out. It looks like this area is not just a cleaning station, which is already massively essential, it’s also serving as a pupping ground. We’ve seen lots of [pregnant] females there, so I don’t think this is a one-off.”
Dr. Oliver, who specializes in studying the thresher sharks at a seamount, or undersea mountain, in the Philippines, says it shows how important the study site is to this vulnerable species. This particular seamount is a shark cleaning station, meaning the sharks purposefuly go there to have parasites nibbled away by smaller fish called cleaner wrasse.
Dr. Oliver is not the only researcher completely astounded by the photograph. Dr. Simon Thorrold, a senior scientist from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, described the photograph, which has now been published in the journal, Coral Reefs, as “amazing,” as reported by BBC news.
“I have never seen a comparable image for any other pelagic shark. It may well be, or at least the first time that the event has been photographed, but this is always difficult to say definitively.”
According to Dr. Oliver, the shark seemed to behave a bit like humans while giving birth, swimming back and forth aimlessly as though in distress. The small feeder fish were feeding at the shark’s cloaca, or birth canal. They observed the shark for approximately fifteen minutes from fifteen meters away, but were unsure at the time what they were observing and photographing.
Afterwards, to their great amazement, while reviewing the photographs, they saw that the shark was giving birth to a live thresher shark head first from its cloaca.
Many researchers, including Dr. Oliver, would like that area to be declared protected territory since it seems to be a birthing area for sharks.
[Image courtesy of BBC News]