Walking Shark discovered in Indonesia strengthening Government commitment to conservation of highly valued ecotourism species


The Indonesian Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries announced the discovery of a new species of walking shark and highlighted the government's commitment to sustainably manage shark and ray populations

Jakarta, Indonesia  – A highly charismatic species of walking shark has been discovered in the remote eastern Indonesian island of Halmahera. The epaulette (long tailed carpet) shark, Hemiscyllium halmahera, uses its fins to "walk" across the ocean floor in search of small fish and crustaceans. The discovery comes at a time when Indonesia is significantly ramping up its efforts to protect shark and ray species that are now considered vulnerable to extinction, including whale sharks and manta rays.
Indonesia is the world's largest archipelagic nation with a marine area of over 5.8 million km2 (including a 2.55 million km2 EEZ), and harbors a vast wealth of marine resources. Among these is an amazing diversity of marine life; besides hosting well over 75% of the world's coral species, Indonesia also is home to at least 218 species of sharks and rays. 

"This is the third walking shark species to be described from eastern Indonesia in the past six years, which highlights our tremendous shark and ray biodiversity," said Fahmi, a shark expert at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences. "We now know that six of the nine known walking shark species occur in Indonesian waters, and these animals are diver favorites with excellent potential to help grow our marine tourism industry." 

Mark Erdmann CI’s senior advisor to the Indonesian Marine Program and regional coordinator for the Bird’s Head Seascape Program said, “After nearly three decades as the world's largest exporter of dried shark fins and other shark and ray products, Indonesia is now focusing on the tremendous economic potential of its sharks and rays as living assets. In the last six months' alone, two of the country's top marine tourism destinations, Raja Ampat and West Manggarai (home of the famed Komodo National Park) have declared their waters as fully protected shark and ray sanctuaries. It is great to see our findings supporting the valuation and conservation of this natural capital for the long-term wellbeing of the nation.”

“This tremendous biodiversity of sharks and rays is a natural heritage that must be conserved for future generations” said Dr. Sudirman Saad, the Director General of Coasts and Small Islands at the Indonesian Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries, who confirmed the government's commitment to manage these important marine assets in a sustainable manner. He noted that the Ministry is currently developing regulations and management plans to ensure the conservation and viability of key threatened species of sharks and rays in Indonesian waters. "In addition to securing the long-term sustainability of our national fisheries, we have launched this initiative to prove Indonesia's commitment to protect our marine biodiversity and ensure the long-term sustainable use of sharks and rays well into the future," said Saad. 

Agus Dermawan, the Director of the Ministry's Marine Conservation Directorate said,"Although we must be mindful of the fact that many of our coastal fishing communities derive significant income from shark and ray fisheries, there is a growing awareness in our country of the important ecological role that sharks play in maintaining healthy fish stocks and especially in the tremendous economic potential of shark and manta-focused marine tourism. We now know, for instance, that a living manta ray is worth up to US $1.9 million to our economy over the course of its lifetime, compared to a value of only $40-200 for its meat and gill-rakers." 

A recent study of global manta tourism conducted by the NGOs WildAid, Shark Savers and Manta Trust showed that Indonesia ranks second globally as a manta tourism destination, with an estimated direct economic benefit of over US $15 million to the Indonesian economy annually. "We believe there is still tremendous untapped potential to expand shark and ray tourism in Indonesia, but we need to act now to manage and recover these populations,' said Mr. Dermawan.

Conservation groups working with the Ministry are delighted by the new focus on deriving economic value from living elasmobranchs, and have pledged their strong support to local and national government agencies working on a more sustainable future for Indonesia's sharks and rays. 

The new walking shark from Halmahera can serve as an excellent ambassador to call public attention to the fact that most sharks are harmless to humans and are worthy of our conservation attention at a time when their populations are extremely threatened by overfishing," said Ketut Sarjana Putra, executive country director of Conservation International Indonesia. "We are very pleased with the commitment of the Indonesian Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries to sustainably manage our country's tremendous national marine heritage."


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Bibliographic information: 
Allen GR, Erdmann MV and CL Dudgeon (2013). Hemiscyllium halmahera, a new species of Bamboo Shark (Hemiscyllidae) from Indonesia. Aqua, International Journal of Ichthyology. 19(3): 123-136.

For more information contact:
Emmeline Johansen, Regional Communications Manager, Asia Pacific Field Division, Conservation International | Mobile +64 4 277 793 401 | Email ejohansen.conservation@gmail.com    

Mr. Agus Dermawan, Director, Marine Conservation Directorate, Indonesian Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries | Email: agusder12@yahoo.com

Fahmi, Senior Elasmobranch Researcher, Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI)| Email: fahmi_lipi@yahoo.com

Ketut Sarjana Putra, Executive Country Director, Conservation International Indonesia

Note to editors:
About Conservation International (CI) – Building upon a strong foundation of science, partnership and field demonstration, CI empowers societies to responsibly and sustainably care for nature and its global biodiversity to promote the long-term well-being of people. Founded in 1987 and marking its 25th anniversary in 2012, CI is headquartered in the Washington, D.C. area. CI employs 900 staff in nearly 30 countries on four continents and works with more than 1,000 partners around the world. For more information, please see www.conservation.org or visit us on Facebook and Twitter.

Fast Facts on Hemiscyllium halmahera:
  • First photographed by divers in 2008, the ninth known species of Hemiscyllium epaulette shark, Hemiscyllium halmahera, has recently been described in honor of its type locality off the island of Halmahera in North Maluku Province, Indonesia. Also known as a "walking shark" due to its peculiar habit of "walking" across the bottom using its pectoral and pelvic fins while foraging at night for small fishes and benthic invertebrates, this particular species is known only from the islands off the west coast of Halmahera (including Ternate and Tidore) around to Weda Bay in the south of Halmahera. 
  • This beautiful new endemic species has a light brown background color with leopard-like dark brown spots alternating with scattered white spots. Unlike its closest relatives H. freycineti and H. galei (both from West Papua), it has relatively few spots on the snout and has a distinctive pair of dark brown spots on the underside of the head.
  • Like its relatives, H. halmahera is generally small and slender (maximum length of only 70-80cm) and lays small egg cases under coral ledges. The baby sharks hatch at approximately 15cm length and generally lead a sedentary life with very limited dispersal. Because of this, each of the 9 known species of walking shark have very restricted ranges that moreover do not cross deep water. For instance, H. halmahera is found only on Halmahera, H. freycineti is found only in Raja Ampat, and H. galei only in Cendrawasih Bay in West Papua. 
  • At the present time, six of the nine walking shark species have been recorded from Indonesian waters, including H. halmahera, H. freycineti, H. henryi, H. galei, H. trispeculare, and H. strahani.  All of the walking sharks are typically favorites with divers, many of whom count a nighttime encounter with a walking shark amongst the highlights of their dive trip. The regency governments around Halmahera are now actively promoting marine tourism to this area, and the discovery of this new species of walking shark should help draw diver interest to this mega-diverse but largely undiscovered region.