A female bamboo shark is set to give birth to two babies after nine months. There is an interesting twist though: the shark is a virgin and has not had contact with a male shark in two years.
In 2013, the white-spotted shark arrived at the Great Yarmouth Sea Life Centre. It was evacuated from another facility in Hunstanton, Norfolk after it was immensely flooded.
During her stint at its present home, it was not accompanied by any species of its kind. Interestingly, experts were able to confirm that it had produced two fertile eggs, which is about to hatch soon.
"They will be the first such births in the Sea Life network, and we're excited and privileged to be expecting such a miraculous event," says Darren Gook, a shark expert and marine biologist.
Experts at Sea Life Center have removed the two fertilized eggs of the white-bamboo shark from its nursery tank. Visitors may now be able to view it and experts will closely monitor its entire development.
While the occurrence seems miraculous, it is not entirely the case. There is actually a scientific explanation for it. Experts call it parthenogenesis.
In the said process, female sharks somehow manage to produce an additional set of chromosomes to its eggs thus, allowing it to generate an offspring. The babies come out as complete clones or half-clones of its mother.
Parthenogenesis is a phenomenon that has been present in domestic chickens and some reptiles however, its occurrence in sharks has only been discovered in 2008. So far, parthenogenesis in sharks have been noted in bonnethead, blacktip, white-bamboo and zebra sharks.
Gook says asexual reproduction or generating offspring without sexual contact is nature's way of helping species grow in population. Such processes conveys that nature is doing something to ensure that species survive in the face of massive drops in numbers. Declines in population disable male and female species from finding each other thus limiting the chances for reproduction.
Parthenogenesis Babies May Continue Species Evolution
In the past, experts think that offsprings produced via parthenogenesis do not have the ability to reproduce further. The babies are rendered infertile and evolution stops at its part of the family tree, but recent events in Germany proved that it is not.
Experts in Germany have just announced the second-generation virgin birth of the same species.
Photo: Nicole Orr | Flickr