A team of divers off the coast of Philippines took pictures of a pelagic thresher shark giving live birth in 2013, and took underwater pictures that were filed away until a marine biologist came across them and brought them to the attention of the world.

According to Simon Oliver, the lead researcher that publicized the photos, “He took the picture of the shark, and when he processed the image and showed it to me, I freaked out.” But Oliver couldn’t tell the story as much as Attila Kaszo, the diver that took the actual photographs of the shark giving live birth could tell it:

“We observed a large female pelagic thresher shark swimming back and forth across a cleaning station in an agitated state. We were unable to decipher the cause of the shark’s distress from our observation post 15m away, although it was evident that cleaner wrasse were taking bits from its pelvic region,” Kaszo said.

“We observed the shark for a total of 4 minutes, during which we took its photograph for identification purposes. The shark then left the cleaning station and was not observed again. Later, when we processed the photographs for analysis, it revealed the head of a pup emerging from the shark’s cloaca (the opening for genital organs, the urinary tract and the intestinal tract).”

The diver-photographer is not finished yet with his experience snapping away at a shark giving birth, and the subsequent event of storing the images for later processing. “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. I sent the pic to Simon Oliver who authenticated it, then it went through numerous evaluations and peer reviews.”

The picture is currently going viral and many marine biologists are fascinated with the idea of capturing a live shark giving birth on camera. This appears to be the first time such photo is taken, and it sets the tone for more research into how pelagic thresher sharks among others give live births in the wild seas.

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