A research ship funded by Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen has captured extraordinary footage of the rarely seen bluntnose sixgill shark.
The encounter occurred while his crew was studying sea life around a wrecked warship in the Pacific as part of an ongoing worldwide push for shark preservation.
Allen's research ship, the RV Petrel, uses baited remote underwater video surveys — or BRUVs — to study humanity's impact on shark and ray populations. It was while they were looking over a sunken World War II ship 850 feet down in Ormoc Bay, off the island of Leyte in the Philippines, that the crew shot their incredible footage.
The bluntnose sixgill shark (Hexanchus griseus) is a large, deepwater shark now rare enough in numbers to find itself identified as near threatened on the IUCN Red List. Though its habitats are some of the most widespread of all sharks — from the waters of southeast Australia, across southern Africa and the Mediterranean to the northwestern coast of Canada — the bluntnose sixgill is extremely vulnerable to overfishing.
According to Gonzalo Araojo, the executive director of the Large Marine Vertebrates Research Institute Philippines, this is almost certainly "the first live encounter with the species in the Philippines."
The bluntnose sixgill shark can grow up to 15 feet long and has six gills rather than five, making its appearance more like that of the prehistoric sharks found in fossilized remains than of those around today.
In fact, Araojo says, "It has more close relatives that are extinct than alive." Its rare morphology makes it of particular interest to the researchers aboard the RV Petrel.
They hope to add studies of the shark to the ever-growing database that is being used to measure humanity's impact on various marine ecosystems.
Allen's organization, Global FinPrint, was founded in 2015 and aims to bring together researchers from around the world in order to "fill a critical information gap" about the dramatic decrease in shark and ray populations.
They estimate that "around 100 million sharks are taken from the oceans every year for their fins and/or meat." It's hoped that new sightings like the astonishing bluntnose sixgill footage are an encouraging sign for shark populations as a whole.
Watch the bluntnose sixgill shark in all its glory in the footage below: