|By Elson T. Elizaga|
|ON THE NIGHT OF FEBRUARY 20, 1998, three fishermen in Macajalar Bay, Cagayan de Oro caught a fish they couldn't identify. A local radio station reported the find the following morning. The fish was later hacked into pieces and consumed that day. Subsequent reports, quoting government sources, said the strange fish was a whale shark. But research conducted by this writer using the Internet revealed that it was a megamouth, an extremely rare species with previously only 10 sightings worldwide.|
Important find. Shark researcher Ben S. Roesch from Toronto, Ontario, Canada was the first to identify the shark as megamouth. In response to a photo sent by this writer, Roesch replied in an email: "The shark is, as you suspected, a megamouth (Megachasma pelagios). Needless to say, this is an important find as megamouths are rare." Roesch was 17 and studying in grade 11 in high school.
When told that this writer was also consulting the Shark Research Institute (SRI) of New Jersey, Roesch wrote back: "I am quite sure the SRI will also identify it as a megamouth. I'd bet anything on it! But I understand your need for confirmation."
As expected, Marie Levine of SRI, who received three photos from this writer, wrote: "It sure looks like a megamouth shark to me. Will check with Dr. Leonard Compagno and get back to you soon."Levine wrote that Compagno is the Director of Science and Research of SRI and is "the world's leading shark taxonomist and author of the FAO [Food and Agriculture Organization] World Catalogue of Sharks." She added that Compagno could determine if the shark was a newly discovered species.
No question. While waiting for Compagno's response, this writer received an email on March 19 from Dr. John F. Morrissey, Associate Professor of the Department of Biology in Hofstra University, Hempstead, New York. The complete text: "No question! That is megamouth #11! Congratulations!! If you obtain any additional information about the specimen or its capture, please let me know. I will inform the members of the American Elasmobranch Society [AES] about your exciting news! Thanks again for sharing it with me!"
Morrissey was 1997 president of the AES and is one of the editors of the 1997 book "Biology of the Megamouth Shark". Morrissey had received three photos on the shark from this writer.
First in the Philippines. Photos sent to Compagno returned to this writer apparently because of technical problems with the server. But on March 21, Compagno wrote back: "I received the three photographs via email. The photos appear to show a large megamouth shark (Megachasma pelagios). Apparently, this is the first recorded discovery of the species in the Philippines. If you have additional photos or other information about the size and sex of the shark, the details of its capture and what happened to it afterwards, please let me know."
Compagno's email indicates his position as Curator of Fishes; Head, Shark Research Center, Division of Life Sciences, South African Museum, Cape Town, South Africa.
Revised. On March 30, the Florida Museum of Natural History updated its online map and distribution table of megamouth sightings. These documents now mention the finding in Cagayan de Oro, Philippines.