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Rare megamouth shark caught off Mexican coast

Reaching lengths of over 6m, megamouth is the world’s largest deepwater fish species
  Wikimedia Commons
A specimen of megamouth Shark, Megachasma pelagios. At Keikyu Aburatsubo Marine Park, Kanagawa, Japan.
Specimen is the second to be caught off Baja coast in five years
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“Although there is few scientific data collected, local fishermen assured us that they've caught other, even bigger megamouth sharks before, so we believe this might mean this species can be part of the shark population that roams the western coasts of Baja,”

Fishermen in Mexico have caught a megamouth shark for the second time in five years. The shark, a three-metre male deceased juvenile, was captured near the western Baja peninsula coast in a region called BahĂ­a de VizcaĂ­no.

One of the world’s rarest fish, only 51 specimens of the elusive deep-water species have ever been caught or sighted since its discovery in Hawaii in1976. Megamouths have appeared in the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian oceans, mostly near Japan and Taiwan but also in such diverse locales as Australia, Ecuador and South Africa. To date, only one individual has been ever captured alive, in 1990.

The same fishing vessel captured another megamouth specimen in Vizcaino Bay in 2006. This has led Mexican scientists to believe that the megamouth could be a seasonal visitor to the Baja Peninsula. “Although there is few scientific data collected, local fishermen assured us that they've caught other, even bigger megamouth sharks before, so we believe this might mean this species can be part of the shark population that roams the western coasts of Baja,” said Omar Santana, a researcher for Ensenada-based CICESE science institute.

Reaching lengths of over 6m, the largest deepwater fish in the world is a slow swimmer. Unlike its most famous great white relative, it feeds by filtering water. Boasting a bulbous head and protruding jaws unlike any other known shark species, it has been classified into its own family, Megachasmidae, under the scientific name Megachasma pelagios.

The new specimen was taken to Ensenada, Mexico, where it was photographed and sliced in order for Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Mexican researchers to study the structure of its muscles and gills. "Sharks have two muscles, white and red. Some have the red muscle in the outer part of the body. This is a very rare opportunity to study the megamouth's speed, how it moves and where it lives," said Santana.

Little is known about the shark's reproduction and feeding, other that it dives up to 500m in search of plankton and krill. Despite its huge head, its teeth are tiny which researchers suggest is a means of absorbing and filtering large amounts of water. Even though the megamouth is very rare, its capture is an indicator of the region’s ecological importance. It is hoped this discovery will encourage Mexican authorities to improve marine species management and better regulate commercial fishing in the area.

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