Earlier this summer, while out on a routine fishing trip in the Gulf of California, fisherman Enrique Leon managed to hook a female dusky shark. After reeling in his catch and heading back to port, Leon began to butcher the animal and soon discovered it was pregnant. There sense of surprise that he experienced over this finding was soon forgotten though, because as he searched through the shark’s womb, he made a much more startling discovery. One of the ten fetuses that this shark was carrying only appeared to have one eye, right in the middle of its forehead just above its nose.
(1) Leon proceeded to post pictures of the fetus to his Facebook account, and before long the pictures had become an Internet sensation.
As could be expected, the photographs were initially received with a high degree of suspicion. Many of the people who initially saw these pictures online operated under the assumption that the pictures were false and that Enrique was nothing but a trickster who was well-versed in Photoshop and had a bit too much time on his hands.
(2) This was soon to change however, as Leon’s pictures soon attracted the interest of several members of the scientific community.
Felipe Magana, a shark authority at Mexico’s Center for Interdisciplinary Marine Sciences
(5) was among the many scientists who saw these photographs. He requested and received permission from Leon to take the shark embryo to the laboratory for observation. After Magana and his colleagues x-rayed and extensively studied the specimen and then compared it against past research they had conducted regarding marine animals afflicted with cyclopia, they realized that what Enrique Leon had caught was the real deal. Cyclopia, the official term for the condition by which a living creature only possesses one eye, generally occurs in about 1 in 250 embryos and in 1 in 16,000 live births. Since it is often accompanied by other severe birth defects and disabilities, any creature born with this condition rarely survives. This condition has also presented itself in cats, horses, sheep, and even humans throughout recorded history, but no one organism affected by it is on record as having survived more than 30 days. Frequently, an animal that is suffering from cyclopia will have a completely absent face and if the face is present, the mouth and nose will rarely be formed correctly.
A cyclopia-affected shark is a very rare find. According to Jim Gelsleitcher, a shark biologist at the University of North Florida, fewer than 50 cyclops sharks have ever been documented, and all of them were in the embroynic stage of development, having been in the wombs of their mothers when caught.
(3) This would be in line with the general tendency of animals with cyclopia not surviving infancy and sadly, according to all experts, this particular cyclops shark would not have survived even if its mother had not been captured even though its one eye did appear to be fully functional and its face was more well-developed than what is typically observed in an animal with cyclopia.
Even when they are born fully healthy and without any defects, Dusky Sharks frequently find their existence threatened. While they populate a large range within our oceans, mostly within warmer tropical waters, their numbers are in risk of depletion due to the fact that their meat is heavily prized in many culinary dishes. One such example is Shark Fin Soup, a delicacy in which Dusky Shark fins are among the most popular. Exacerbating the situation is that they are among the very slowest sharks to reach full sexual and biological maturity, with most of them not reaching complete adulthood until around the age of twenty years. They are frequently found within the waters of the Gulf of Califonia, which is the body of water that separates the Baja Peninsula from the Mexican mainland, the location in which Leon caught the cyclops shark. As much as this story has generated fame for Leon, this wasn’t his first unique find in the Gulf of California. In 2010 alone, he also caught two female blue sharks which were each pregnant with two-headed offspring.
(4) Now that the scientific studies have been completed, the one-eyed shark has been returned to Mr. Leon, who has decided to hold on to it for now, hoping to cash in big in the near future. One thing is certain though – whenever Enrique Leon posts on Facebook, people are going to be listening.
1. Pappas, Stephanie
Meet the Cyclops Shark and Other Creepy Creatures
CBS News, October 19, 2011
2. Bell, Melissa
Cyclops Shark Not an Internet Prank
Washington Post, October 19, 2011
3. Bodzash, Dennis
Rare Cyclops Shark Caught on Camera
Examiner.com, October 19, 2011
4. Baron, Mike
Rare Cyclops Shark Albino – Proof It’s Real!
The Post Chronicle, October 19, 2011
5. Pescovitz, David
Cyclops Shark Fetus
Boing Boing, October 17, 2011