Monday, September 18, 2006

Shark Tale: Meet The Jaws That Walks The Ocean Floor

Scientists at work in uncharted coral reefs off Papua New Guinea have discovered a treasure trove of new animal life. According to Conservation International, two dozen new species of fish, as well as eight previously unknown types of shrimp and twenty unique forms of coral have been found in the Bird’s Head Seascape, which stretches for 180,000 sq km (70,000 sq miles) on the north western end of PNG. By far the most fascinating of the research team's discoveries is the epaulette shark, pictured above. The 1.2 metre (4ft) long creature walks along the sands of the ocean floor using its muscular pectoral fins as legs. Other finds include a shrimp with a striking resemblance to a praying mantis and a male wrasse fish with a highly colourful courtship ritual: when courting females its body turns from a rather dull grey to a spectacular blaze of yellow, blue and purple.
The research team are convinced they have only scratched the surface of the area's scientific riches, however. The "coral triangle" is thought to be home to at least 1,200 species of fish and almost 600 species of reef-building coral - three quarters of the world's known totals for these species. “It’s one of the most stunningly beautiful landscapes and seascapes on the planet,” Mark Erdmann, a senior adviser of Conservation International who led two surveys to the area earlier this year, is quoted as telling The TImes. “Above and below water, it’s simply mind-blowing.”

Picture Gerry Allen/AP/Conservation International

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