Many species on Earth are born one sex and able to swap their sex later in life to maximize their number of offspring. Clownfish, wrasses and many other fish species just to name a few. But off the coast of Taiwan, fishers have captured a unique shark that has a fully developed set of male and female reproductive organs at the same time.
Intersex sharks are incredibly rare. Only a handful of intersex sharks have been documented before. The newfound shark is even more valuable because it is the first of kind in the world.
“I’ve caught literally thousands of sharks myself, and I’ve never seen (one).” Carl Meyer, a marine biologist at the University of Hawai’i told Hakai Magazine.
The shark belongs to the species of coastal spadenose sharks and is about 1.6 feet long. It was caught in a fishing trawl in the southern Taiwan Strait and later transported to China in January 2017.
Externally, the shark appeared to be a fully grown male. When researchers examined it, they found that the shark has female reproductive organs as well. Furthermore, both type of organs are fully formed, meaning that the shark could potentially perform reproductive function of either sex. Still, very litte is known about their reproduction.
“They can give birth without mating—like virgin birth,” said Chris Lowe, a marine biologist at California State University, Long Beach. “The question is: why?” Perhaps intersexuality is somehow related to this ability of some sharks to give birth to a clone, he suggests. “We just don’t know enough about shark biology to be able to answer those questions.”
The precise biology of intersex shark is unclear, but reseachers believe changing enviromental conditions could contribute to this process. However, it is not limited to a single factor.
“Environmental contamination is certainly not the only reason why this might happen every now and then,” said Meyer. “Purely genetic drivers could largely determine what happens during reproductive development. There could be a genetic miscoding that ends up with a rare intersex example in a species.”
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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.