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Rare shark dies on shore of Iloilo town; bewilders, awes townfolk


ILOILO CITY � A giant fish with a large blubbery head and bulbous snout was stranded in barangay Namocon, Tigbauan on Nov. 4. It lay on the beach injured, eyes glassy and calmly heaving as if preparing for its inevitable death.

A crowd of locals gathered around it, amazed at the sight of a creature never before seen. The locals tried pushing the mammal back to the water, but it refused even to budge.

Hours later, Nani Torilla of the Capiz Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) arrived and observed that the animal was suffering from what looked like a spear wound.

Seeing the fish�s worsening condition, the locals asked if they could kill the giant fish for its meat and fins. Now, its Torilla�s turn to refuse to budge. He insisted to keep the mysterious fish intact, and when it died, he suggested that it be buried.

The next day, the creature did not receive a proper burial, but was instead properly identified by a Southeast Asia Fisheries Development Center (SEAFDEC) official as the rarest shark in the world� a megamouth shark (Megachasma pelagios).

The SEAFDEC official was notified of the dead shark by a concerned owner of the Sol y Mar Beach Resort, which was near the stranding site.

The mystery unravels. The megamouth shark is called Megamouth No. 24 because it is only the 24th specimen of its kind recorded in the world. Megamouth No. 24 is an adult female that measures 504-centimeter-long and weighs about a ton. It was not confirmed yet whether the wound on the megamouth is indeed a spear wound or a bite from a cookie cutter shark, which has the same migration pattern like that of a megamouth.

Megamouth No. 24 is also only the third megamouth recorded in the Philippines. The first and second recorded megamouths in the county were sighted at Macalajar Bay off Cagayan de Oro in 1998 and 2003. Records showed both specimens had been eaten by fisherfolk.

Very little is known about megamouth sharks because it was only a recent scientific discovery, surfacing only in 1976 at the coast of Hawaii. They are called megamouths for their broadly rounded mouths that can measure more than one-meter wide in adults.

They are filter feeders much like the whale sharks� both colossal creatures of the sea that feed only on small animals like krill or alamang. Megamouths swim in deeper waters during daylight and move up to shallower parts at night, most probably to feed.

"The scientific community believes that the megamouth is perhaps the most spectacular discovery of a new shark in the 20th Century," said Adon Gaudiano, WWF-Philippines Elasmobranch and Cetacean Bycatch Researcher.

"So far, megamouth sharks have no commercial value as opposed to dog sharks which are heavily hunted for their liver oil, or whale sharks, which have great ecotourism value. But due to extremely limited data about them, we don�t know how every megamouth casualty affects their population."

WWF also said that the megamouth�s presence underscores the importance of the ecologically rich Sulu Sulawesi Seas, especially to other large filter feeders such as whale sharks, mantas, and a variety of baleen whales. Studies show that the abundance of these creatures is a good indication of the health of an ecosystem.

This megamouth found in Iloilo is the first and only intact specimen the Philippines has. Unfortunately, the caretakers of Megamouth No. 24 feel that the public is not sharing the interest of this exciting development. "Perhaps because we lack a science culture," one of them said. Hopefully, he said, the carcass will be preserved properly for further studies that may one day unlock the secrets of this mysterious shark and of the deep sea.

He narrated how 16 men had to be called to carry the gargantuan megamouth shark (Megachasma pelagios) to an aquarium in SEAFDEC. It was stranded alive at Namocon Beach, Tigbauan, Iloilo, and eventually died a day after.

Rare shark dies on shore of Iloilo town; bewilders, awes townfolk