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'Extremely rare' shark seen for first time in a decade at fish market

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A shark that hasn’t been seen in more than a decade was found in an unusual location: an Indian fish market. Conservationists spotted the critically endangered Ganges river shark in photographs taken for a study that was recently published in the Journal of Fish Biology.

The February 2016 study, which was funded through a Save Our Seas Foundation grant, highlighted various sharks sold at Sassoon Docks in Mumbai over a period of two years, according to New Scientist. Scientists studying the photos thought they spotted a familiar face among the crowd — and sure enough, they were right.

The 8-foot, 7-inch female shark was the Ganges river shark, occasionally mistaken for the common bull shark. The shark has a rounded snout, small eyes and a stocky build. 

“River sharks are particularly mysterious,” Gavin Naylor, a professor at College of Charleston and the Medical University of South Carolina, told Fox News in 2015. “They have got tiny little eyes and very broad fins. These are adaptions for living in very turbid water. If you have a look where these things live, the visibility is about an inch. It’s completely muddy water.“

“River sharks are particularly mysterious. They have got tiny little eyes and very broad fins.”

– Gavin Naylor

The creature was first discovered in 1839, though little is known about the species because so few have ever been caught. 

“Many people have never seen these animals [in the flesh],” Naylor said, adding that it isn’t entirely unusual for the shark’s body parts to pop up in local fish markets. Fishermen often try to sell the shark’s jaw and fins.

“[It] is also fished by locals for its meat and oil,” World Wildlife Federation India said in a statement on its website.

Experts are still trying to determine the exact location this particular Ganges river shark was picked up, though they suspect it was somewhere along the Arabian Sea.

“There are so few specimens of river sharks from around the world that pretty much all the information we have is based on either preserved specimens from the last century, or from jaws that were found at some point in remote villages and were identified as river sharks,” Rima Jabado, founder of the Gulf Elasmo Project, a non-profit conservation organization based in the United Arab Emirates, told New Scientist.

The “extremely rare” creature, amongst the 20 most threatened shark species in the world, is currently protected under the Wildlife (Protection) Act of India, 1972.

Wildlife lovers hope this find will inspire people in the area to protect the rare creatures.

“In light of the Critically Endangered status of this species and its rarity, urgent management actions are needed to determine population size and trends in abundance in combination with fisher education and awareness campaigns,” authors of the study echoed.

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