Northern river shark
|Northern river shark|
Compagno, W. T. White & Last, 2008
|Range of the northern river shark|
The northern river shark or New Guinea river shark (Glyphis garricki) is a species of requiem shark, in the family Carcharhinidae. It is found in scattered tidal rivers and associated coastal waters in northern Australia, and possibly Papua New Guinea. This species inhabits areas with poor visibility, soft bottoms, and large tides, with immature sharks ranging into fresh and brackish water. It is similar to other river sharks in having a stocky grey body with a high back, tiny eyes, and broad fins. It measures up to 2.5 m (8.2 ft) long.
Northern river sharks are likely piscivorous. This species is viviparous, with females bearing litters of 9 young possibly every other year before the wet season. Very rare and facing threats from commercial and recreational fishing, and perhaps also habitat degradation, this species has been assessed as Critically Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
The first known specimens of the northern river shark, two newborn males from Papua New Guinea, were discovered by New Zealand ichthyologist Jack Garrick, after whom the species would eventually be named. This shark was referred to as "Glyphis sp. C" until 2008, when it was formally described by Leonard Compagno, William White, and Peter Last in a Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) paper. The type specimen is a female 67 cm (26 in) long, collected from the East Alligator River, Kakadu National Park, Northern Territory.
Distribution and habitat
The northern river shark has been reported from King Sound, the Ord River, and Doctors Creek near Derby in Western Australia, the Adelaide and Alligator Rivers in Northern Australia, and possibly the Fly River in Papua New Guinea. It inhabits large rivers, estuaries, and coastal bays, all of which are characterized by high turbidity, silty or muddy bottoms, and large tides. Young and juvenile sharks are found in fresh, brackish, and salt water (salinity ranging from 2 to 36 ppt), whereas adults have only been found in marine environments.
Like other members of its genus, the northern river shark has a stocky body with a high back. The head is wide and flattened, with a broadly rounded snout and minute eyes equipped with nictitating membranes. Each nostril is divided into a very large incurrent opening and a small excurrent opening by a triangular skin flap. The sizable mouth is broadly arched, with short furrows at the corners. There are 31–34 tooth rows in the upper jaw and 30–35 tooth rows in the lower jaw; the upper teeth are upright and triangular with serrated edges, while the lower teeth are narrower and straight to slightly curved. In the largest individuals, the first few lower teeth from the jaw median are hastate (spear-shaped) with serrations near the tip.
The pectoral fins are large and broad, with gently backward-curving margins and pointed tips. The pelvic fins are triangular with nearly straight trailing margins. The first dorsal fin is long-based and triangular, with the apex almost forming a right angle; the second dorsal fin is some two-thirds as high as the first. The origin of the first dorsal fin lies over the pectoral fin insertions, while that of second dorsal fin lies over the pelvic fin rear tips. There is no ridge between the dorsal fins. The anal fin is smaller than the second dorsal fin and has a strong notch in the rear margin. The caudal fin has a strong lower lobe and a long, narrow upper lobe with a ventral notch near the tip. The dermal denticles are small, oval, and overlapping, bearing three horizontal ridges leading to marginal teeth. This shark is steel-gray above and white below; the color transition is sharp, located well below the eye, and becomes jagged on the sides of the trunk. The anal and caudal fins become dusky or black towards the trailing margins and tips. The maximum known length is 2.5 m (8.2 ft). This species differs from the speartooth shark (G. glyphis) in several morphological and meristic characters, including having fewer vertebrae (137–151 versus 213–222) and a lower, jagged gray-white color boundary.
Biology and ecology
With its slender teeth, small eyes, and high density of ampullae of Lorenzini, the northern river shark seems to be adapted for hunting fish in conditions of poor visibility. In Doctors Creek, there is evidence that sharks may move to and from favored feeding areas with the tide. Like other requiem sharks, this species is viviparous with the developing embryos forming a placental connection to their mother after exhausting their supply of yolk. Females give birth around October, before the start of the wet season, on possibly a biennial cycle. One female examined contained nine fetuses. The young are born at under 67 cm (26 in) long; males mature between lengths of 1.2 and 1.4 m (3.9 and 4.6 ft), while females mature between lengths of 1.4 and 1.7 m (4.6 and 5.6 ft).
The northern river shark appears to be extremely rare, though more subpopulations may remain to be discovered in Australia and Papua New Guinea. Based on present information, no more than 250 mature individuals are estimated to exist in the wild, with no more than 50 in any particular subpopulation. This species is caught legally and illegally by commercial fisheries using longlines and gillnets, as well as by recreational fishers; habitat degradation may pose a further threat to its survival. Because of its low natural abundance, limited distribution, stringent habitat requirements, and susceptibility to various human-caused threats, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has assessed the northern river shark as Critically Endangered. It has also been listed as Endangered on the 1999 Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, and on the 2000 Territory Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act. Kakadu National Park may be an important protected area for this species.
The shark was later found by extreme angler and River Monsters host Jeremy Wade, whom was looking for a killer shark in Australia. Since the shark that he caught wasn't large enough and little is known about it, Wade ruled it out of his investigation but was only able to hold for sixty seconds, due to local laws and it being endangered. Wade measured it, weighed it, tagged it, and let it go within the proper time range.
- Pogonoski, J. and D. Pollard (2003). Glyphis garricki. In: IUCN 2008. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Retrieved 10 January 2010.
- Compagno, L.J.V., W.T. White and P.R. Last (2008). "Glyphis garricki sp. nov., a new species of river shark (Carcharhiniformes: Carcharhinidae) from northern Australia and Papua New Guinea, with a redescription of Glyphis glyphis (Müller & Henle, 1839)". In Last, P.R., W.T. White and J.J. Pogonoski. Descriptions of new Australian Chondrichthyans. CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research. pp. 203–226. ISBN 0-1921424-1-0 (corrected) ISBN 1-921424-18-2 (invalid, listed in publication).
- Pillans, R.D., J.D. Stevens, P.M. Kyne and J. Salini (25 August 2009). "Observations on the distribution, biology, short-term movements and habitat requirements of river sharks Glyphis spp. in northern Australia" (PDF). Endangered Species Research.
- Thorburn, D.C., D.L. Morgan, A.J. Rowland and H.S. Gill. (February 2004). The northern river shark (Glyphis sp. C) in Western Australia. Report to the National Heritage Trust, Murdoch University. Retrieved on 10 January 2010.
- River Monsters