Coal miners have canaries to tell them when things are going bad it’s time to get out. Marine biologists have more creatures to choose from but a good indicator of things going bad in the oceans is the appearance of mutations in sharks – the alpha predators at the top of the marine food chain. If that’s your undersea canary, then you should already be running – in recent weeks the waters have coughed up an albino shark where one has never been seen before, and a rare two-headed baby shark. But wait … that was followed by a report of a mutant albino shark – all-white with only one eye. Mutant mutants? Will 2020 ever run out of surprises?
“However, when I saw this white shark I let out a series of expletives. I have been fishing for over 30 years and I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Jason Gillespie was not bragging to the Portsmouth News about a great white shark but a pure white one he caught from his pilot house boat off the Isle of Wight. The unusual shark was over a meter long and weighed about 20 pounds. After having his mates take plenty of pictures, Gillespie released the shark back to the waters. Seeing the photos in the news (see them here), Dr. Sarah Marley, a senior lecturer in marine biology at the University of Portsmouth’s Institute of Marine Sciences, declared it to be a albino Tope shark. Tope sharks are endangered worldwide but often seen in the Northeast Atlantic, but albino sharks in general are extremely rare mutations with low survival rates due to lack of camouflage, bad eyesight and terrible hearing.
And yet, things could be worse.
“We have never seen anything like this before. We believe one of the larger sharks may have given birth to this double-headed shark baby. We shared the images with researchers from the Indian Council for Agricultural Research - Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute (ICAR-CMFRI), Mumbai.”
Nitin Patil of Palghar caught a six-inch-long baby shark that was too small to eat, but fortunately he looked twice before tossing it back and saw that it had two heads. He took some photos (see them here) which fisherman Umesh Palekar sent to the wildlife officials who admitted they’d never seen a two-headed shark in India waters before. A bad sign? Marine biologist Swapnil Tandel told the Hindustan Times the spadenose shark would probably never reach adulthood, and the prognosis isn’t much better for those who catch, eat or otherwise use sharks.
“These finds are so rare that it is difficult to find a cause for the anomaly. Genetic or metabolic disorders, viruses, pollution or overfishing could be the possible reasons. If two-headed fetuses are more prevalent in nature, then overfishing is a strong culprit as it may cause the gene pool to shrink.”
And yet, things could be MUCH worse.
“We found three babies inside its stomach, but one of them looked strange with only one eye. Its color was strange too, like milk.”
Yahoo News Australia reports that fishermen in Indonesia cut open an adult shark they had just caught and found a small albino shark with just one eye. Not sure if the adult had eaten it or was pregnant with it, they took photos (see the gruesome shots here) and then presented the albino cyclops shark to the local marine office. No cause of the shark’s combination cyclopia/albinism was given, but the reasons are probably the same as the albino shark in India. Or 2020.
Right about now, canaries are probably starting to feel a little smug and safe in a coal mine.