Underwater forensics reveal new shark and ray species

Only seven elasmobranch species, like the blue-spotted ray (pictured), have been sighted in Singapore waters in the past two decades. -- The Straits Times/ANN

THE murky waters hide an abundance of marine life – including a group of creatures that is globally threatened from overfishing.

A new study by National University of Singapore (NUS) scientists has found that there could be more species of sharks and rays than expected – including two species never before recorded in local waters: the Bengal whip ray and cowtail stingray.

Sharks and rays belong to a group of marine creatures known as elasmobranchs. Museum records going back to the 1960s at NUS show that 37 elasmobranch species have been found in local waters.

But of the 37, only seven have been sighted in Singapore waters by anglers and scuba divers in the past two decades.

They include the black-tipped reef shark and blue-spotted ray.

But the new study led by Aden Ip, a doctoral student at the Reef Ecology Lab in NUS, suggests that up to 16 species – including the two new ones – could have swum in Singapore waters recently.

The scientists did not discover the presence of these animals in the usual way creatures are found, such as through chance encounters or camera trap footage.

Instead, environmental forensics paved the way for their discovery.

The researchers took 84 water samples from nine locations in the Singapore Strait and ran DNA tests.

The study also found that three sites south of Singapore – Cyrene Reef, Lazarus Island and Raffles Lighthouse – hosted a larger array of shark and ray species. — The Straits Times/ANN

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