Rare ancient shark relative captured by fisherman

By Natsumi Penberthy January 22, 2015
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A fisherman has caught a rare specimen of the eel-like frilled shark

A RARE AND PREHISTORIC species of shark has been captured by a fisherman off the Gippsland Coast, in south-eastern Australia.

The frilled shark (Chlamydoselachus anguineus) was a shock find for angler David Guillot, who has been fishing for over 30 years and had never before encountered the species.

The almost 2m-long, eel-like shark was caught at about 1100m, is a scarce occurrence on the ends of fishing lines; however, it is often scooped up as by-catch in mid-water trawl nets off the coast of Japan.

Rare shark “like something out of a horror movie”

“It was like something out of a horror movie…quite horrific-looking,” David told Fairfax Radio.

First described in 1884, the frilled shark received its name from the six frilly protruding gills on either side of its nape.  An ancient species of shark and one of two living species from the prehistoric Chlamydoselachus family, its lineage is thought to date back to the Late Cretaceous period, 95 million years ago.

The frilled shark has distinct 300 pin-shaped, backwards-facing teeth and consumes prey whole, with the teeth helping to ‘trap’ prey. David reported that after he hauled in the shark aboard the Western Alliance it displayed aggressive behaviour, coordinating its muscles like an eel and turning backwards on itself attempting to bite a deck hand.

A frilled shark has around 300 teeth. (Credit: Kelvin Aitken/ Marine Themes)

Rare frilled shark is barely studied

The species is described by the IUCN as rare, with a conservation status of Near Threatened. However, insufficient studies have been performed to record accurate population estimates and describe potential threats of the species.

Frilled sharks occupy the ‘benthopelagic’ ecosystems of Atlantic and Pacific oceans, typically living at depths ranging 500-1000m below the sea surface.

“We assume that its body shape is adapted to its niche, but because there are so few observations of the species in the wild, we are not really sure what that niche actually is,” says Mark Meekan, fish biologist at the Australian Institute of Marine Science.

Existing typically in cool temperate waters, the species has been captured in notable concentrations around New Zealand, Japan and the United Kingdom.