Academy research associate Dave Ebert wasn’t necessarily looking for new species when he pulled this small Philippine sawshark from the Academy's Ichthyology department shelves last year, but after comparing characteristics like the number of rostral teeth (the spikes edging the sawshark’s “snout”) to those of other specimens, Ebert realized he had a brand-new species in his hands. “It’s not quite as exciting as an Indiana Jones story,” he says, “but it’s still pretty cool.”
Pristiophorus lanae, or “Lana’s sawshark” (named after Ebert’s shark-loving niece), is one of only seven species in the genus, and the second Ebert himself has described. Collected in 1966 off the Philippine coast, this type specimen—the specimen on which the species description is based—is slender-bodied, has five gills, and measures a little over 77 cm (30.5 in.) in length.
Due in part to the depths the species inhabits—more than 800 feet below the surface—very little is known about Lana's sawshark. Scientists can only guess at how many there might be, where they live, or how they reproduce. However, they do know how sawsharks use their telltale snout. Like the larger and better-known sawfishes (which are actually rays), they use their rostrum like a sword, whipping it back-and-forth to stun and kill their prey.
Range and Conservation
Lana’s sawshark has only been documented as occupying the waters around the Philippine Islands, though researchers think it's likely distributed throughout the northwestern part of the Pacific. Very little is known about its population numbers, though Ebert has worked to help people in the Philippines be prepared to recognize these sawsharks if sighted.
Pristiophorus lanae is known from seven specimens (six females and a single male), caught off Zamboanguita, Apo Island between Negros and Siquijor, and off southern Luzon in Balayan Bay and Ragay Gulf, in the Philippine Islands.
Oceans of Unknown Sharks
One of the focuses of Ebert's work is to discover and describe lesser-known species of sharks. “From a conservation standpoint," he explains, "it’s pretty hard to develop any kind of conservation measures when you don’t even have a name for something.” Ebert estimates he may already have as many as 20 to 30 new species sitting in his lab.
This specimen was one of more than 90 new species that Academy scientists described in 2013. To learn more about it—and our other discoveries—check out the Science Today video below.
The Department of Ichthyology is home to one of the largest and most important collections of fishes in the world, and is designated as one of eight International Centers for Ichthyology in North America. Meet the researchers, explore projects and expeditions, and more.