A massive 14-foot sand tiger shark washed up on Kilmore Quay, in Wexford, this weekend. Scientists believe this is the first official record of the species being found in the waters of Ireland.
Odontaspis ferox is a species rarely encountered by humans because it is naturally distributed in deep waters (more than 100m) offshore. In fact, while it has been found in a number of locations in temperate and tropical seas around the world, this species was thought to only distribute as far north as the Bay of Biscay in the eastern Atlantic, where scientists were surprised to see it farther north.
Shark biologist Dr. Nicholas Payne, assistant professor at Trinity College of Natural Sciences, was notified by Martin, a Swiss tourist who happened across the shark while hiking on Saturday.
“I couldn’t believe it when I got that spam email from Martin, because as soon as I saw the pictures he sent, I knew we had to go down there urgently to sample this rare animal,” said Dr. Payne.
The Trinity team, including postdoctoral researcher Jenny Bortoluzzi and Ph.D. Candidate Haley Doulton, accompanied by UCD scientist Kevin Purvis, rushed against the incoming tide to take as many measurements and samples as possible so that they could get a sense of the biology of this uncommon animal and, hopefully, the cause of its death.
Dr Payne said, “Unfortunately another species of this kind had drifted up the English south coast just a fortnight ago; we all thought this was very strange at the time in view of the northern location, but to see another here so soon after is a bit of a concern. We shall run now.” a number of tests to try to find out why this is happening and also to learn more about these species in general.”
Small-toothed sand tiger sharks, which pose no danger to people, are currently classified as “Vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Although they are not specifically targeted by commercial fisheries, they can face threats such as bycatch or pollution. The maximum recorded size for a female of this species is about 15 feet, which puts this Irish specimen—which was a female—on the higher end of her size limits.
Dr. Jenny Bortoluzzi assisted in the autopsy. She said: “We are very excited to have taken many high quality samples from this particular rare specimen as this information is invaluable to increasing our knowledge of the species’ biology and ecology through many national and international collaborations.
“It’s also great that a member of the public contacted us as it shows increased awareness, and we hope this encourages more people to get in touch in the future if they come across something similar.”
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