Sharks and Rays of Papua New Guinea

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After the rugby league grand final win by Cronulla Sharks over Melbourne Storm in the NRL, it clicked on us that there was a recent email we received from the Australian National Fish Collections about the various shark and ray species in Papua New Guinea.

The organisation held an exhibition here in Port Moresby and Dr Will White, the Senior Curator, kindly sent us some unique information about the exhibition and the various ray and shark species.

So here’s what Dr Will sent us:

Papua New Guinea has a highly diverse shark and ray fauna, with at least 120 species known to occur within its waters. These range from deepwater species living below 1000 m depth in the Bismarck Sea to species which occur well upstream into the freshwater parts of the major PNG river systems. The shark and ray fauna of Papua New Guinea is not well understood and the National Fisheries Authority (NFA), the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) are aiming to improve our understanding of these important apex predators. This exhibit highlights the diversity of sharks and rays which occur in PNG through x-radiographs of a selection of 6 species encountered from PNG waters in this project.

Dwarf Sawfish


Reaches 3.1 m in length. Listed as an Endangered species. Considered to be possibly extinct in PNG but found during recent surveys in Western Province. X-ray shows the highly specialised snout (rostrum) and the deeply embedded lateral teeth along the length of the rostrum.

Edminds’ Spurdog


Reaches 87 cm in length. Found in depths of mostly 300–500 m. Previously only known from northwestern Australia and Indonesia, recently found in Bismarck Archipelago.
X-ray of a whole specimen highlights the strong spines present in front of the dorsal fins.

Eyebrow Wedgefish


Reaches at least 270 cm in length. Very common in the Gulf of Papua. Although they have a shark-like body, its actually a species of ray. X-ray highlights the complex skeletal structure including the strong rostral cartilage which supports the long snout of this species.

Speartooth Shark


Reaches at least 2.6 m in length. Listed as an Endangered species. Not confirmed from PNG waters since the 1960s but recently ‘rediscovered’ during surveys in the Western Province. X-ray of the jaw shows the large teeth of an adult female with the broad, triangular upper teeth and the narrow, spear-shaped lower teeth.

Tasselled Wobbegong


Reaches 1.25 m in length. Found on shallow reefs of northern Australia and New Guinea. Intricate colour patterns for camouflage; ambush predators. X-ray highlights the beard-like tassel of skin lobes present around the head which helps this species to camouflage itself against reefs.

Coral Sea Maskray


Reaches 35 cm in width. Found on shallow reefs of the southwest Pacific. Once thought to be a single wide-ranging bluespotted species, but actually a complex of multiple species with narrower ranges. X-ray highlights the complex array of cartilages which support the stingrays’ pectoral fins.