Galapagos Marine Reserve, aboard the Galapagos Aggressor
It is week nine of my time here studying shark populations in the Galapagos, and I have made an astonishing discovery. The dive guide Ruben Intriago of the Aggressor Fleets shared a video with me and the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF) team that shows a shark species that he did not know. After some research, we identified it as a Smalltooth sandtiger shark (Odontaspis ferox). This is the first sighting of this species in Galapagos!
The Smalltooth sandtiger shark normally lives in depths of around 800m, but from time to time they are sighted in shallow waters (especially pregnant females), but never before in Galapagos. In fact, the observed individual was a female with a "thick belly." Unfortunately, with only the video we can't be certain if the shark truly was pregnant.
The video was recorded by a German diving tourist that shared her videos with the Aggressor crew, making this discovery a fantastic example of Citizen Science. Citizen Science is based on volunteers collecting data for researchers. Often, these projects give amateur scientists relevant background knowledge so they can contribute to science.
Shark Savers runs the project Sharks Count, based on Citizen Science. In this project divers can note their shark sightings on a Shark Savers-prepared underwater slate, and record their observations on a global database. The goal of the project is to gain an overview about abundances and distributions of sharks worldwide on a scale that scientists could never cover. Over time, these sightings will provide essential information about local shark population trends with the potential of improving shark protection.
Together with my colleagues from the CDF and the Galapagos National Park, I will now register this new species for the archipelago and we will include it in the Galapagos species checklist: http://checklists.datazone.darwinfoundation.org/