Featured Image Credit: NOAA
By Jessica Kittel
A Pacific Spadenose shark was recently caught off the coast of Southern Taiwan with a unique feature, as featured on newsweek.com. Unlike all other sharks of this species that have been caught in the past, this particular shark has both male and female reproductive organs.
The shark was initially believed to be a male, due to the presence of two claspers. However, after further examination, they discovered that the shark actually had both male and female reproductive tracts. The shark’s gonads also had testicular and ovarian tissue. On top of that, the shark had viable male and female germ cells so the shark could have theoretically functioned as either male or female with no problem.
Intersex fish aren’t all that uncommon. Clownfish are well-known examples and are able to switch their sex from male to female if a female dies. Disney apparently didn’t want to try to tackle that in Finding Nemo.
While intersex fish aren’t rare, intersex sharks are. Very few hermaphroditic sharks have ever been discovered. However, sharks in captivity have been known to perform “virgin births” (i.e. reproducing asexually). As reported on nationalgeographic.com, a captive female shark in Australia laid eggs that hatched three healthy pups, despite not having been around a male shark in three years. She is a strong, independent shark that don’t need no male.
This trait could come in handy, evolutionarily, if the shark populations reach such a low point that finding mates become difficult.