World's first hybrid sharks are "evolution in action" - San Diego, California News Station - KFMB Channel 8 - cbs8.com

World's first hybrid sharks are "evolution in action"

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(CBS 8) - Scientists have made an exciting discovery off the coast of Australia. They say interbreeding between two shark species has created the world's first hybrid shark.

They're the offspring of the Australian black-tip shark, which is found in the warmer, northern waters, and the common black-tip, which is usually found in the cooler southern waters. Fifty-seven of the hybrids were discovered in four different areas in the middle.

"I think it's remarkable these animals have been discovered," Dr. Nigella Hillgarth of the Birch Aquarium at Scripps said.

Hillgarth says it's too early to know if these new sharks are bigger or faster, but she questions some scientists who theorize the animals are simply adapting to ensure their survival because of global warming.

"Usually when you get a hybrid zone, it's because in a species like this, one species prefers to mate with the other, so it may be the males find the females really exciting and so that's what's happening. I don't think there's any conscious desire on their part to think, oh, we have to survive because of climate change," Hillgarth said.

Scientists have just started studying the hybrid, but they've already determined that there are a number of generations. So the hybrids are clearly mating with the two species that started them.

Doctor Ron Burton at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography says it's possible that a day will come when the three different sharks eventually become one species. The ocean is filled with mystery.

"We don't know what else is out there. There'll be new species of sharks, hybrids and otherwise," Burton said.

That said, sharks physically mate one to one, which usually ensures no hybridizing occurs. So this new hybrid tells researchers that when it comes to sharks, we still have a lot more to learn.

The hybrid sharks were discovered by researchers from the University of Queensland, who are now working with other researchers to investigate what else is in the hybrid zone.

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