- Scientists have documented four new species of walking shark which they believe have developed the ability to walk very recently.
- Walking sharks use fins to physically walk on the seabed instead of swimming all the time.
- Species that separate from larger groups can evolve their own unique traits and abilities.
Walking sharks looks like something you would have seen in a preview Sharknado 8: Nowhere Is Safe, but apparently it’s a completely real thing and researchers have discovered a handful of species in recent years that have apparently evolved the skill.
Scientists have known about sharks that have the ability to “walk”
Walking sharks tend to appear in roughly the same area, which is found in the waters off northern Australia. They are usually smaller in size – you won’t see a large white shark walking along the ocean floor soon – and it seems to help sharks hunt for prey on land.
“Instead of swimming around, these small sharks who live at the bottom” walk “using their pectoral and pelvic fins, which makes it easier to stick their heads under corals and rocks while looking for small fish, snails and crustaceans to eat,” Mark Erdmann, coauthor of the study, said in an interview. “We found that most walking sharks spend their entire lives on the same coral reef they hatched, never moving more than a mile from this ray. The only way they can cross deep water or move to a significant distance would be if they are on a cliff that moves due to the displacement of the tectonic plates. “
The researchers explain that sharks that have been observed to walk tend to be in isolated areas and do not travel far. They attribute the rapid development of walking techniques to individuals or small groups of sharks who move to a new area and, once the walking technique is adopted, future generations learn from birth.
“Speciation typically occurs when individuals of a particular species are separated from their main population – sometimes walking or swimming or being carried away by a current in an isolated place,” explains Erdmann. “If they are lucky enough to survive and reproduce, evolution will eventually take this new population in a different direction and often lead to a new species.”
The researchers say they intend to further study walking sharks and learn more about their habits. Walking sharks are still a poorly understood subset of the shark family tree, so there are still many questions left to answer.