April 2, 2023

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Scientists claim that the Goblin Shark in the photo is just a plastic toy

Scientists claim that the Goblin Shark in the photo is just a plastic toy

Deep sea drama unfolds in the world of shark science. The exciting scientific record of a rare species in a new location may just be the picture of a plastic toy.

Through posted comments, tweets, and conversations with Gizmodo, biologists, shark enthusiasts, and other experts have expressed intense doubts that the alleged photo of a goblin shark really shows an animal that was once alive.

If the image is original, the image in question would be the first ever record of the species in the Mediterranean – a remarkable and significant expansion of the range of this uncommon animal. But if it is in fact a picture of a goblin shark, as several sources suggest, it is a cautionary tale about citizen science, neglectful editing and peer review, and the pressure scientists face to publish new findings as quickly as possible.

To resolve this shark controversy, let’s start at the beginning.

published record

last year scientists published paper They documented a specimen of a supposed goblin shark, found dead and washed up on a Greek beach. This was the first time anyone had done so Nightmare looking sharks in the deep sea It was observed in the Mediterranean Sea, according to the article published in the journal Mediterranean Marine Science in May 2022. In that paper, the researchers said they were sent the image by a citizen scientist; None of the team saw or examined the sample themselves.

Goblin sharks are elusive creatures that are rarely seen dead or live. Not much is known about their reproduction or habits, in large part because they spend most of their lives thousands of feet below the ocean’s surface. He thinks they are widely distributedLegit specimens have been found in various parts of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans. However, no one had ever published evidence of a goblin shark in the Mediterranean, until this study.

Months after that first publication, in November 2022, a group of independent ichthyologists and researchers responded comment In the initial paper, in the same scientific journal, he questions the legality of the sample. “Upon closer examination of this photograph…doubts emerge as to its authenticity,” they wrote. Commenters listed 10 reasons for their skepticism, from the shape of the jaw and other pieces on the “specimen” in the photo, to the incorrect number of gills, the stiffness of the fins, and the lack of detail in the article’s description.

In response, the study’s original authors published their follow-up comment In January – double the validity of the sample and try to refute all fears. Both comments were first posted online on Monday.

veto over veto

However, with the rebuttal, inconsistencies and more loopholes have emerged, and goblin shark hunters remain unconvinced. “In my opinion, it’s a model for such a shark,” Jürgen Pollerspöck, an independent shark researcher and lead author of the November 2022 commentary, said in an email to Gizmodo. When he first saw the image, he said he “immediately noticed the shark’s ‘unnatural appearance’. Stranded animals often show injuries or signs of decomposition.” But the pictured sample did not.

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He also noted that the original article described a goblin shark that was supposed to be 80 cm long. In their response, the authors said that, in fact, the citizen scientist estimated the specimen’s total length to be 17 to 20 cm, and it was likely a shark embryo, rather than a juvenile. In Pollerspöck’s view, 20 cm is too small to be a viable goblin shark, immature, embryonic, or otherwise.

Gizmodo reached out to the principal investigator who initially published the alleged goblin sharks’ log, as well as the journal’s editor-in-chief. Neither had responded by the time of publication.

The Internet weighs

Meanwhile, the discussion of “is it a real shark” has shifted across the Internet. Shark ecologist and marine biologist David Schiffman shared on Twitter in at least two different threads. in One tweetSchiffman Books eBay link to the typical goblin shark game that seems particularly appropriate for the image.

Andrew Thaler, a deep-sea ecologist, also participated on Twitter To say he’s satisfied with eBay’s own game. “Mystery ends. It’s a shark game,” he wrote. In an email to Gizmodo, he explained: “This is outside my area of ​​expertise… My only comment is that it looks a lot like a shark game.”

Several shark enthusiasts responded to Thaler and Shiffman’s tweets, confirming their observations that the pictured “shark” looks a lot like a toy shark.

But one marine researcher took the task further. Matthew McDavitt, a lawyer by trade but an independent researcher who publishes on sharks in his spare time, has compiled his own photo comparisons and report of the controversy, which he shared with Gizmodo.

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Comparison of a picture of a game shark and a purported shark specimen

The top photo is the alleged specimen found on the beach. The bottom picture is a toy shark that many believe fooled scientists. What is highlighted is what Matthew McDavitt believes is the visible plastic mold seam on the purportedly real animal.
picture: Matthew McDavitt

The original image “just seemed off,” McDavitt told Gizmodo in a phone call. He cited the drooping platform, tail, and mouth as things that didn’t add up with his knowledge of real goblin sharks. He also reiterated Pollerspöck’s concern about volume. “It doesn’t look right.”

photo collage

This set of images shows the actual posted image (center right) along with images of the toy shark that many believe actually appears in the posted image.
Graph: Matthew McDavitt

McDavitt said this wouldn’t be the first time an image has been misrepresented as evidence of fish scale expansion (yes, sharks are fish). The researcher conveyed a story in which he had previously noticed some inconsistencies in a rare African photograph wedgefish, published as the first evidence that this species lives off the coast from U.S Sao Tome IslandWhere it has never been seen before. In the end, he said, the photo turned out to be of a different species (Taiwanese wedgefish), and it was Taken from Captive Animal in Portuguese Fishbowl. A photographer fraudulently passed it off as a diving photo.

He said such situations can have real negative effects on researchers. McDavitt noted that, in the example of the wedge fish, he ended up hearing about some scientists who were willing to fund an expedition to clear the waters off Sao Tome To find more examples of rare fish. Obviously, they were going to be disappointed.

The marine biologist, who asked not to be identified for fear of professional harm, told Gizmodo in a phone call that he’s pretty confident the photo of the goblin shark is fake. He said that when he first looked at the photo, he felt it wasn’t right. The scientist explained that this is not how species records are presented – with a single image without even a scale bar.

Although he did not know the publishing scientists personally, he did not believe they had malicious intent. In his view, they failed to do their due diligence. He said whether or not the citizen scientist who sent them the photo knew it was not a real goblin shark was not clear.

Both the marine biologist and McDavitt said the main issue here is negligence on the part of the publishing journal and public pressure within academia to publish exciting new findings. Both said the most responsible and best outcome here would be either for the original researchers to retract their papers or for the journal to issue a retraction.

PolarSpock echoed the same sentiment. He noted that the principal investigator of the student Goblin Shark study. “In my opinion, the problem and the responsibility lie more with the journal editor and reviewers,” he wrote to Gizmodo. He is “convinced it was an accident” on the part of the original authors.

It’s great. Is it plastic?

Marine scientists and shark enthusiasts aren’t the only ones telling Gizmodo that the “goblin shark” specimen looks suspicious. Two plastics experts echoed concerns about the alleged fish’s health.

“I think it’s very likely that is the case [a] degraded plastic toy Joanna Sippy, researcher in plastic degradation at Duke University, told Gizmodo in a phone call. Seib said she couldn’t be sure, because the only way to identify the material would be by examining it directly, but many aspects of the image indicated that the “shark” could be a molded synthetic.

And she agreed that the line next to the mouth could easily be a machine-molded plastic seam. Then there are spots of what could be sand, or maybe plastic pigment residue stuck to the model. Saipe also noted a dark “L” shaped imprint on the tailwhich she said looked like intentional color shading.

Furthermore, sagging of the tail and rostrum (like a shark’s nose), and color fading can all be a result of heat or wear on a plastic toy – especially the left Seb added that the sun is on a Greek beach.

Greg Merrill, a graduate student at Duke University who studies plastic pollution in marine mammals, believes the “animal” depicted was a plastic model. “I’m not a shark expert; I study whales and plastics,” he wrote to Gizmodo in an email. However, he said, “I’m pretty sure this is a game.”

His criticism echoed those of other scholars. He also pointed out the lack of scale in the images and the laxness in the description in the original post. He noted that it is extremely rare to find a completely intact specimen of any marine organism washed ashore. “Scavengers — crabs, gulls, etc. — are keen on a free meal, often consuming soft tissues, such as the eyes, almost immediately,” Merrill writes. that it, “If the animal reaches the shore“Let’s start with