SYDNEY, April 6 (Xinhua) -- A population of critically endangered grey nurse sharks has been spotted in the waters off Australia’s Northern Territory, with scientists and marine conservationists pointing to a major repopulation of the animals through the chance discovery.
The nurse sharks, until now known to reside near Australia's eastern and western coasts, were found off the coast of the Tiwi Islands during work on gas giant ConocoPhillips’ new Barossa gas pipeline, the ABC news channel reported on Saturday.
Scientists and marine conservationists are hoping that the “isolated population could be the genetic savior of the critically endangered east coast population”, according to the channel.
“There's about 400 breeding animals left on the east coast, they're very rare nowadays and it may mean that these animals found near the Tiwi Islands can help repopulate the East Coast," Jason Fowler from the Marine Conservation Society was quoted as saying.
“The numbers have declined rapidly over the last couple of decades and the number of breeding individuals and the genetic variation … really don't look good for the future persistence of the species,” Macquarie University biologist Adam Stow, who has been researching the grey nurse shark, told the channel.
The new nurse sharks “could be critical to the species' future and that attracting funding to carry out genetic tests would be the essential next steps”, according to Stow.
ConocoPhillips said in a statement that “its independent scientific advice was that its operations were not expected to have significant impacts on wildlife in the area”, including the grey nurse sharks, the channel reported.