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Rare shark discovered in Costa Rican waters

August 8, 2008

Scientists have confirmed the existence of the elusive Mexican hornshark (Heterodontus mexicanus), off the coast of Isla Herradura near Playa Jacó on the central Pacific. The species, previously reported to exist only in certain Central American Pacific waters and Mexico, but was not known to inhabit Costa Rican waters.

“It´s a very rare species to start out with,” said Randall Arauz, president of the Marine Turtle Restoration Program (PRETOMA). “The fishermen themselves don´t have a name for it. Very little is known about this species.”

Working with locals was key for PRETOMA in establishing what exists in the local fisheries.

“We worked with the fishermen for a year and we´ve been doing these things called ´shark day´ events,” Arauz said. At the events, scientists invite locals to share information on different species. “The horned shark, we had a picture of it, and this fisherman recognized it. This was about a year ago.”

That same fisherman, Luis Angel Rojas, caught a hornshark on Aug. 4. He excitedly held onto the specimen, a female, to show to PRETOMA scientists.

The shark is small, with spines on each dorsal fin. It lays eggs on the ocean floor that require a year to hatch. This is unusual among sharks, many of which bear live young. Arauz also said that the hornshark, with teeth specially designed for grinding, eats mollusks.

The discovery expands the known geographic range of the shark´s habitat, whose numbers and status are virtually unknown.

About two years ago, PRETOMA confirmed the existence of the brown smoothhound shark (Mustelus henlei) in the country´s oceans.

“This is all thanks to the help of the fishermen,” Arauz said. “Without them, this couldn´t have happened.”

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