Almost everyone takes some form of a camera on vacation with them, whether it’s an iPhone or the newest DSLR. The resulting snaps of sunsets and local sites rarely garner an audience larger than the photographer’s family, Facebook friends and Flickr followers. However, Australian photographer, Attila Kaszo, accidentally caught the shot of a lifetime during a recent trip to the Philippines when he unknowingly snapped a female thresher shark giving birth.
Kaszo’s picture is of a pelagic thresher, which is distinguishable from other species of thresher by the dark coloring over its pectoral fins. It is the first known documentation of the event. Thresher sharks inhabit tropical and subtropical waters and in this case, the shark in question was swimming agitatedly around a “cleaning station” near the Monad Shoal. Kaszo, who was attending a marine survey of the area, was taking pictures of the sea life around the coastal seamount when he focused on the thresher. The shark, identifiable by its long, distinctive tail fin, was approximately fifteen meters away and the survey team could not determine the cause of the shark’s distress at the time at that distance.
Upon later examination of his photographs, Kaszo realized that the head of a newborn shark, or pup, is clearly visible. Initially, Kaszo had discarded the photograph. In speaking with The Washington Post, he admitted, “That picture ended up in my trash folder because it appeared to have a ‘blob’ on it which I thought was a jellyfish…[I] revisited my trash folder and looked more closely at what I had…Even after I had stared at it for some time I couldn’t reconcile it was a birth, I guess it was just too far-fetched for that.”
Kaszo consulted lead researcher Dr. Simon Oliver from the University of Chester, who authenticated it before the photograph was subjected to other evaluations and peer review. Oliver studies threshers in what is known as a “cleaning station.” Sharks and other sea creatures enter the area to have smaller fish, called cleaner wrasse, nibble parasites and dead tissue off their bodies. He told BBC that, “It looks like this area is not just a cleaning station, which is already massively essential, it’s also serving as a pupping ground.” The almost-trashed photograph, which has since been published in Coral Reefs, will surely have an impact on not only shark conservation, but go on to inform our understanding of this vulnerable and lesser-known species.