HomeOutdoorsNewsSawshark With a Head Like a Hedge Trimmer Discovered Deep in the Ocean

Sawshark With a Head Like a Hedge Trimmer Discovered Deep in the Ocean

by Taylor Cunningham

Fishers in Tanzania and Madagascar led scientists to discover two new species of the incredibly rare sixgill sawshark. Until 2017, only eight sawshark species were known to exist, including one with six gills. Nearly all the apex predators have five gills. But the recent discoveries bring two more six-gill varieties to the list.

Sawsharks get their name because they have long faces that are literally shaped like saws. The unique build cuts through groups of fish. And a dangling mustache on the tip of the nose works as a sensory device that helps the hunter detect prey.

“Sawsharks are something extraordinary,” Simon Weigmann from the Elasmobranch Research Laboratory in Hamburg, Germany told the Guardian.

People living in fishing communities along the southwest coast of Madagascar knew that one of the creatures, which they dubbed “vae vae,” existed long before western scientists did. And the rest of the world caught up after an angler gave two snouts to a visiting biologist named Ruth Leeney.

Leeney, who works at the Natural History Museum in London, quickly realized that the saws were different than those that belong to the other species. So, she sent them to Weigmann. And he determined that they belonged to a sixgill shark after comparing them to several preserved specimens.

“Formerly, we thought that we just had one species occurring off South Africa, Mozambique, and Madagascar. Now we know Madagascar has a different species,” he told the publication.

Little is Known About the Sawsharks’ Population

Weigmann named one of the discoveries Pliotrema kajae. It is called Kaja’s sixgill sawshark for short. He named it after his daughter, Kaja, because of her interest in the creature.

The second new find came to him after he found a specimen at a fish market on the island of Zanzibar in Tanzania. He named that species P annae, after his daughter’s cousin Anna.

The two species have mustaches, also known as barbels, that sit closer to the tip of their snouts than other sawsharks. Weigmann hasn’t determined why, however. And he also can’t explain the reason that the predators have six gills instead of five. Out of the more than 1,000 species of sharks and stingrays known to exist, on a few have six or seven gills.

The three sixgill sawsharks live in separate parts of the Indiana Ocean. But little is known about their population. And scientists are hoping to quickly decide if the creatures are threatened and need protection.

Kajas swim between 600 and 1000 feet below the surface off the coast of Madagascar. They also live on the submarine Mascarene plateau that stretches between Seychelles and Mauritius. Annas are only known to swim in the shallow waters off Zanzibar. And the original species, P warreni, lives nearly 2,000 feet under the waters off South Africa and southern Mozambique.