New Shark Species Discovered in the Atlantic Ocean Has Teeth Like Saws and Six Gills

Atlantic Sixgill Pup
A young Atlantic sixgill shark is shown swimming in the waters of Belize. Credit: Ivy Baremore/MarAlliance

A new species of shark has been discovered roaming the deep sea. The marine biologists who confirmed its existence have proposed it be called the "Atlantic sixgill shark."

The large animal found in the Atlantic Ocean has counterparts in the Indian and Pacific oceans, but the latest research using genetic testing confirmed that they aren't the same species as scientists had previously believed for decades, according to the findings published in the journal Marine Biodiversity.

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"We showed that the sixgills in the Atlantic are actually very different from the ones in the Indian and Pacific Oceans on a molecular level, to the point where it is obvious that they're a different species even though they look very similar to the naked eye," Toby Daly-Engel, an assistant biology professor at the Florida Institute of Technology who led the research, said in a statement.

Atlantic Sixgill Pup
A young Atlantic sixgill shark is pictured swimming in the waters off Belize. Credit: Ivy Baremore/MarAlliance

Daly-Engel and her colleagues from across the globe analyzed more than 1,300 base pairs of two mitochondrial genes. They had to turn to genetics because the shark is often too deep in the water, so they're rarely caught, making it difficult to compare specimens, she explained to Atlas Obscura.

Despite its large size, the Atlantic sixgill shark is actually much smaller than its relatives in other oceans. They measure about six feet long, have distinct saw-like teeth and, as their name implies, six gills, the authors wrote in their published report.

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The discovery of the species, called Hexanchus vitulus, could potentially save the animals from dying off early. "We understand that if we overfish one of them, they will not replenish from elsewhere in the world," Daly-Engel said in a statement.

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An adult Atlantic sixgill shark is pictured swimming in the waters off Belize. Credit: Thomas Meyer/MarAlliance

Still, much more research is needed to explain the mystery of the sea creature.

"Through a more thorough understanding of its biology and behavior, the Atlantic sixgill shark—a flagship species of the deep—can help reveal the biotic and abiotic drivers that specifically shape deep water shark evolution and distribution," the authors conclude in their paper.