x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 22 November 2017

New shark species found in RAK

Canadian expert cataloguing the creatures in Gulf waters is waiting for verification of her discovery from taxonomists around the world.

Rima Jabado has been cataloguing shark species in the Emirates’ waters for the past two years.
Rima Jabado has been cataloguing shark species in the Emirates’ waters for the past two years.

DUBAI // A marine biologist hopes she may soon be lending her name to a new species of shark she discovered in UAE waters.

Rima Jabado, who for the past two years has been cataloguing shark species in the Emirates' waters, recently found the fish at a landing site in Ras Al Khaimah.

She said her curiosity was sparked by subtle differences in the teeth and the shape of the sharks' mouths.

"They are smaller sharks, similar to the milk sharks," Ms Jabado said. "They don't grow very big. I found very few of them but they just looked slightly different."

She has been conducting her own genetic analysis of the sharks, which are less than 70 centimetres long, and has sent pictures to various taxonomists around the world.

Ms Jabado, a Lebanese-born Canadian, said she could only be sure one of the two shark species she found was entirely new to science, but verification would have to be done by taxonomists around the world.

"I'm not the one to confirm this," she said. "It needs to go to specialist taxonomists around the world and we need to do genetic work before we can confirm it. It can take sometimes two to three years to describe a new species."

Ms Jabado also spent some time in light-hearted speculation about how the new species might be named.

"I wish they could be named after me," she said. "Maybe I could auction off the names for more funding. That would be the ideal scenario."

The discovery of a new marine species was common, Ms Jabado said.

"A new species is described every couple of weeks, whether it is a shark, a coral or a fish species," she said. "The marine environment is huge and there are still so many things we don't know. New things are being discovered constantly because we are going to new areas."

The last time a new species was discovered was in March, when a close relative of the hammerhead shark was found in Brazil.

Last year there were four shark species discovered around the world, and the pace of new discoveries is increasing.

In the past decade 200 species have been found, compared with fewer than 200 in the three decades before that.

Ms Jabado said that as the Gulf waters were scoured for sharks more thoroughly there was greater potential for more discoveries.

"We have new technologies now to help us identify them, which is making the task easier," she said.

Ms Jabado made the announcement at Atlantis, The Palm, ahead of an ocean-awareness day at the hotel today.

The event will include a lecture by the nature documentary maker Mike Rutzen, who is an expert on the great white shark.

Mr Rutzen welcomed Ms Jabado's work in cataloguing species.

"If you don't know enough about them you can't protect them, their habitat or their food sources," he said. "These research projects are critical to these animals' survival."

Ms Jabado has so far categorised 30 shark species in the UAE and is due to publish her findings this year.

Among those she has found are two species of hammerheads, black-tips and bull sharks.

Ms Jabado added that Mr Rutzen will not be able to indulge his dangerous passion for diving with great whites in Gulf waters.

"The majority of sharks we have are quite small," she said. "We don't have any great whites here."

mcroucher@thenational.ae