‘A walking shark’ sounds like something that would appear in one of the Sharknado films.
Thankfully, the reality is less terrifying and ridiculous.
Sharks have lived in our oceans (or their oceans, depending on how you look at it) for millions of years, without changing too much, with the exception of a few species that have continued to evolve.
A newly discovered species, falling under the umbrella of ‘walking sharks’, can do what their name implies – they have evolved to walk.
According to National Geographic, these “three-foot-long creatures live near Australia” and “move their pectoral fins in the front and pelvic fins in the back to plod along the seafloor—or even atop coral reefs, outside the water, at low tide”.
Look at them go:
Their ability to walk has increased their effectiveness as hunters.
“During low tides, they became the top predator on the reef,” says Christine Dudgeon, a researcher at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia.
Now, a long-term study by an international group of collaborators has turned up four new species of walking sharks since 2008, bringing the total to nine walking shark species. In a paper published this week in the journal Marine and Freshwater Research, the researchers have also shown that these species all evolved in the last nine million years.
This is apparently quite fast for sharks as they normally evolve very slowly. Gavin Naylor, director of the Florida Program for Shark Research at the University of Florida, puts it into perspective:
Sixgill sharks, for example, denizens of the deep sea, “seem stuck back in time,” Naylor says. “We see animals from 180 million years ago with exactly the same teeth.”
But the walking sharks are likely still evolving in their native tropical waters surrounding Australia, Papua New Guinea, and eastern Indonesia.
In other words, by evolutionary standards, these little guys are ahead of the game.
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