One photograph is shedding light on the life of one of the ocean’s more elusive animals. The journal Coral Reefs has published what is believed to be the first photograph taken of a live thresher shark birth in the ocean. The image of the pelagic thresher shark was shot by photographer Attila E. Kaszo during a 2013 research dive led by Dr. Simon Oliver from the University of Chester in the U.K.
The photograph was taken during just a routine dive, and Oliver told the BBC that he “freaked out” when he saw Kaszo’s processed image.
According to Oliver’s paper for Coral Reefs, the thresher shark has a low rate of reproduction and is “classified as vulnerable to overexploitation by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.”
Oliver writes that pregnant sharks are rarely seen in the wild, and that not much is known about oceanic births for most species in the wild. The shark was monitored swimming back and forth for a period of four minutes and its picture was taken for identification. Oliver writes that it wasn’t until the image was processed that he and his team realized it featured the emerging head of a shark pup.
The shark was discovered at a seamount, or underwater mountain that also serves as a “cleaning station,” which is where sharks go to have smaller fish – known as cleaner wrasse — eat unhealthy parasites away from their bodies.
“It looks like this area is not just a cleaning station, which is already massively essential, it’s also serving as pupping ground,” Oliver said.
Oliver said that he wants this particular seamount to become a “marine protected area.”