A controversy in the world of shark science has come to an end. A group of scientists who released a recording of what is believed to be the very first goblin shark found in the Mediterranean Sea have retracted their work. THE retractionsubmitted March 20, follows Gizmodo’s first reports on the saga.
For a quick refresher: Scientists released a brief description of what they claim was the Mediterranean’s first goblin shark, based on a single low-quality photo provided to them by a citizen scientist in May 2022. recording appeared in the newspaper. Mediterranean marine sciences. None of the researchers saw or interacted directly with this alleged specimen. The photo claiming to show the once-alive shark did not contain any scales and scientists have been unable to firmly report its size.
Goblin sharks, elusive and distinctive (i.e. nightmarish) looking deep-sea fishhave been documented in Lots of seats in the world, but never before in the Mediterranean Sea. If the 2022 record were genuine, it would represent a significant range extension that could dictate future research funding or even marine conservation spending. Yet many doubt its validity.
Shark experts and marine biologists came across the dossier published last year and expressed their skepticism online in a Facebook group and on Twitteras well as in a Commentary from November 2022 which was published by the journal. Critics of the recording have focused on the unusual appearance of the photographed specimen. They noted its stiff fins, completeness, lack of visible damage, incorrect number of gill slits, small size, and odd shape of some pieces, among other things. Simply put: many marine life aficionados thought the specimen looked more like a figurine than an actual dead shark.
In response, the study authors doubled down on their view that the specimen was real in their own rebuttal comment, published in January. Still, the shark science community was unconvinced by their argument, which suggested the strange and unusually small specimen could have been a goblin shark embryo with a mouth deformed by ingesting eggs in utero.
Some shark researchers have looked into one particular plastic toy, for selling on ebay, which bears a striking resemblance to the photographed specimen. Gizmodo spoke to marine and plastics experts, all of whom doubted the alleged specimen photo shows a once-living animal.
“In my opinion, this is a model of such a shark”, Jürgen Pollerspockan independent shark researcher and lead author of the November 2022 commentary, told Gizmodo in an email last week
“He looks a lot like a toy shark”, deep-sea ecologist Andrew Thalier also said by e-mail.
“I think it’s very possible that it could be [a] degraded plastic toy, Joana Sipea scientist studying plastic degradation at Duke University, told Gizmodo in a March 17 phone call.
Independent shark researcher Matthew McDavitt has produced a multi-page report outlining his own suspicions. He told Gizmodo that he attempted to submit his own comment to Mediterranean Marine Science, but was declined because the retraction process was already underway.
Now the study authors have officially released an academic report. The notice of withdrawal was posted this week. It applies to both the initial publication and the follow-up author comment. The content of the notice is brief, even shorter than the title of the retraction. It simply reads:
The above authors withdraw these recent publications due to the remaining uncertainty because they are based on visual observation by a citizen (citizen science), without a specimen being available. The information available was not sufficient to support this case based solely on photographic evidence and direct contact between the perpetrators and the citizen.
“It’s good that the data has been corrected. It shows that community control is working,” Pollerspöck wrote to Gizmodo.
“I of course think the retraction is the right decision,” McDavitt said in an email.
Gizmodo contacted the study researchers for more information, but the scientists did not respond at the time of publication. At daily beasthowever, they wrote that they still believe in the authenticity of the photographed specimen:
“Although we have every reason to assume that the discovery was genuine (several experts in Mediterranean sharks and [two] anonymous peers accepted and supported the publication of this article!), other colleagues caused a totally unethical controversy and claimed that the specimen was an abandoned plastic figurine,” said co-author Frithjof Kuepper from the University of Aberdeen in Scotland. “In order to avoid further damage and given that the specimen had not been preserved by the citizen scientist at Anafi (Papadakis), we decided to withdraw the article.”
So was it a plastic toy? Was this the very first goblin shark ever recorded in the Mediterranean Sea? While it’s reasonable to speculate, ultimately the world may never know for sure. The specimen was not collected; it was simply photographed and left at the mercy of the sea. Goblin sharks could very well be out there, swimming in the depths of the Mediterranean and washing up on Greek beaches. If you think you’ve found a dead one, squeeze it hard, just to be sure.