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What is the Ganges Shark?

Marjorie McAtee
Marjorie McAtee

The Ganges shark is a river shark believed to inhabit the Ganges and Hooghly rivers of West Bengal, India. Little is known about this species of freshwater shark, of which few verifiable specimens exist. Like other river sharks, it is stocky in appearance with a broad snout, small eyes, and serrated upper teeth. The Ganges shark is widely considered dangerous by locals in its native region, though claims that this shark is a man-eater remain unproven. Like other types of river sharks, the Ganges shark is rare and faces dangers including overfishing, pollution, and habitat changes due to human habitation along its native waters.

River sharks are freshwater sharks that live in river systems and estuaries. There are several species of river sharks, including the Irrawaddy shark and the speartooth shark. Many species of river shark have not yet been properly described or classified.

Veterinarian with a puppy
Veterinarian with a puppy

Scientists know very little about the Ganges shark. River shark species are, as a general rule, very rare, and few viable scientific specimens of such sharks exist. For much of the 20th century, there were only three Ganges river shark specimens in existence, all of which were collected during the 1800s. Specimens collected in 1996 and 2001 may be Ganges sharks, though the authenticity of either of these specimens remains unproven.

The Ganges river shark has a vicious reputation among those who inhabit its native region. Some experts believe that this is due to confusion with the bull shark, a more aggressive species of river shark that also inhabits the Hooghly River.

Though not much is known about the life cycle or behaviors of the Ganges shark, scientists believe they know what it looks like. This species is considered to have a high, broad head, and generally possesses between 31 and 37 teeth. Upper teeth are serrated, while lower teeth typically remain smooth. These sharks' small eyes and small, widely-spaced nostrils may suggest that they have adapted to a murky, turbulent water habitat. Ganges sharks typically have a short, broad snout, broad dorsal fins, and short lip grooves at the corners of their jaws.

Experts do not yet know how these animals reproduce, but they suspect that, like other sharks, the Ganges shark gives birth to live young. Ganges sharks are normally between 55 and 60 cm (21.65 to 23.6 inches) long at birth. They may grow to a mature length of 200 cm (78.74 inches).

Ganges sharks have been considered critically endangered since 1996. Though they are protected under India's 1972 Wildlife Protection Act, Ganges sharks are still fished for meat and international trade. Human impact may also have damaged the species, which is vulnerable to water pollution as well as the construction of dams and other river structures.

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      Veterinarian with a puppy