The Belize Fisheries Department is pleased to announce the discovery of a new shark species in Belize. The new shark species has not been officially named as yet but it closely resembles the Bonnethead shark (Sphyrna tiburo) and was discovered in samples taken from a landing site in Belize through an ongoing shark data collection, monitoring and research program and collaboration between the Fisheries Department and Dr. Demian Chapman, a shark specialist of Florida International University (FIU).

Dr. Demian Chapman has been conducting research on several shark species in Belize since 2008 with a focus on Hammerhead shark species, whose international trade is regulated by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) of Wild Fauna and Flora.

In 2016 a Shark tagging expedition was conducted in Belize where scientists came to discover that there might be a new species of the Hammerhead Shark “Bonnethead”. They believe that the birth of this new specie comes from the interbreeding between two groups of species.

Bonnetheads are commercially fished in the United States, throughout the Caribbean and in South America; only the U.S. has strong management measures in place for the species.There have been claims that there is only one species of this shark and that in certain countries these sharks have been known to be extinct.

The discovery has led to the understanding that there can be more that one species and they each can posses its own threat.The DNA analysis conducted by Andrew Fields from Stony Brook University enabled the team in Belize to estimate ‘Bonnethead’ sharks around the nation stopped interbreeding with those from Mexico, the United States and the Bahamas several million years ago. Over time, genetic differences accumulated between the two groups. While their appearances haven’t changed, their DNA definitely has. Scientists are currently working on composing a formal description and scientific name for the new species.

The Fisheries Department has implemented a shark data collection and research program since 2013. The objective of the program is to gather scientific data to help develop and implement improved management measures to ensure the sustainability of shark populations in Belize. In this work, the Fisheries Department works closely with shark fishers at landing sites and collaborates with independent shark scientists and conservation organizations.

Belize’s shark fishery is small-scale and artisanal in nature employing roughly 60 fishers. The shark fishery is regulated through the application of regulations that are established under Statutory Instrument No. 78 of 2011. Also, a National Shark Working Group has been formed to provide management recommendations.

Fishers and the general public are advised that it is illegal to conduct shark fishing without a valid Shark Fishing License. Please contact the Fisheries Department at telephone number 224-4552 for additional information.

Belize Fisheries Department Confirms Discovery of New Shark Species in Country

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Solani Graniel