Photo by: Jesse Colaizzi

Jesse Colaizzi

Extinct or Alive? A Question Nearly Impossible to Answer in the Ocean

By: Forrest Galante

It’s a big world out there, and there are a lot of places to hide. This is the mentality I take when searching for lost species, a passion I have dedicated my life and career as a wildlife biologist to.

August 21, 2020

When I approached Discovery about finding lost sharks and they asked me if I could do it, I remembered the age old statistic that floats around every marine biology classroom that states, “We know more about the surface of the moon than we do about the bottom of the ocean.”

I thought to myself, well I’ve never found any animals on the moon, but I’m pretty good in the water so let’s give it a try. I teamed up with my close friend and world renowned lost shark scientist Dave Ebert and off to South Africa we went. NEVER in my wildest dreams did I think we would find, not one, not two, but three species of these scientifically missing sharks!

Whitetip Weasel Shark

Photo by: Adrian

Adrian

After a week of deploying BRUVs (baited remote underwater video systems), a hazy clip of a long, slender, beautiful shark was caught on camera. Last seen in 1984, this incredible creature with white tipped fins and a black tipped second dorsal was confirmed by Dave to indeed be footage of the outstanding missing creature. This was the first time in history a live whitetip weasel shark had ever been filmed.

And given we were only a week into a month long expedition, we weren’t quite ready to be done with our aquatic game of hide and seek just yet.

Ornate Sleeper Ray

Photo by: Forrest Galante

Forrest Galante

The ornate sleeper rays were discovered only in 1984 and were last seen in 2007. Of the three discoveries, this might actually be my favorite because I didn’t make it - and that’s a wonderful thing!

I received a random phone call while driving through the town of Shelly Beach, South Africa and on the other end was Adrian Pearton, a local dive master, who requested we meet with him.

Citizen science is so valuable. One set of eyeballs, looking for a lost species in the world is very ineffective. Millions of people looking, even if they don’t know what they are looking for, is incredibly effective and that is what happened in this situation. Adrian shared stunning HD footage of the creature in question to Dave and me, and we were ecstatic.

It was worth the meeting! It's great to see what my team and I are doing (searching for these lost species) has become public knowledge enough that word gets out and leads to such a significant find. And that is what it’s all about - inspiring people to care enough about science and conservation to make a difference!


Flapnose Houndshark

Photo by: John Harrington

John Harrington

Finally, in our pursuit of a third lost shark, my team and I narrowed down areas where fishermen said they had previously caught what they believed to be the flapnose houndshark. After two nights of fishing, a tug on the line, and a short fight, something truly magical (and scientifically significant) happened!

Here, in the hands of Dave and me, is the incredible flap nose hound shark, a creature lost to science for nearly 120 years! In Dave’s left hand is the tag, the first one ever applied to this species for data that is so valuable to understanding this species and monitoring its ongoing survival.

It’s next to impossible to describe the feeling I get when holding a creature lost to science in my hands that's alive and well. I am very fortunate to have had this experience a handful of times now. And let me tell you... it’s getting no less thrilling!

Finding lost creatures like this has immense value in helping scientists better understand the ecosystem and all its inhabitants and helps us further protect diversity and fight extinction.


If you haven’t seen it, EXTINCT OR ALIVE: LAND OF THE LOST SHARKS is available anytime on Discovery GO.

Searching for Lost Sharks

Dr. Dave Ebert joined Animal Planet’s Forrest Galante in some of the most shark infested waters in the Southern Hemisphere to track down lost species on EXTINCT OR ALIVE: LAND OF THE LOST SHARKS. He let's us in on his experience.

Next Up

Shark Week: The Podcast - Superstar Kesha Lifts the Gag Order on Saving Sharks

Pop superstar Kesha joins Shark Week’s Luke Tipple on the podcast to discuss her love of sharks, how her music funds her addiction to diving, and how you can find inner peace while under the water. And at the end, our researcher Sierra drops in to tell us that some sharks have teeth in their eyes.

Shark Week: The Podcast – Madison Stewart Discusses Helping Shark Fishermen Transition into Tourism

Luke Tipple is joined by Madison Stewart aka “Shark Girl”, filmmaker, shark conservationist and founder of Project Hiu.

Shark Week: The Podcast – Kinga Philipps on Massive Tiger Sharks in French Polynesia

Luke Tipple is joined by shark conservationist and star of Discovery’s Shark Week Special Sharks in Paradise, Kinga Philipps, to discuss massive tiger sharks in French Polynesia.

Shark Week: The Podcast - Did Alien Tech Crash-Land into the Ocean?

Host Luke Tipple is joined this week by renowned Harvard professor, Dr. Avi Loeb, who recently led a deep-sea expedition to discover if evidence for advanced alien life crash-landed off the coast of Papua New Guinea in 2014. They discuss the recent Congressional UFO hearings, how the last seventy years of research into extraterrestrial life has been potentially misguided, and the challenges of searching for tiny objects on the bottom of the ocean.

Shark Week: The Podcast - How Smart Are Sharks?

The discussion turns this week to sharks’ intelligence, and how it varies among species. Host Luke Tipple is joined by Dr. Tristan Guttridge, a behavioral ecologist and veteran of Shark Week whose research has tackled the social smarts, and even personalities, of different kinds of sharks. He sheds light on why we shouldn’t just think of them as dumb fish with rows of razor-sharp teeth. And at the end, our researcher Sierra Kehoe tells us about shark hypnosis.

Shark Week: The Podcast - How Shark Fishing Funds Human Trafficking

Luke Tipple is joined by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of the Outlaw Ocean Ian Urbina, who has dedicated his life to chronicling crime on the high seas. They discuss the state of our world’s oceans, how nearly 20% of your seafood was likely caught illegally, and the surprising link between modern slavery and the killing of sharks.

Shark Week: The Podcast - Lights! Camera! TEETH! Making Shark Docs

Shark Week’s Luke Tipple is joined by longtime filmmaker and Emmy-award-winner Andy Casagrande. He’s filmed and appeared in dozens of shark documentaries, and might just be the most prolific shark cinematographer in history. He talks with Luke about his career, the contentious term “shark porn,” and the future of the industry. And at the end, our researcher Sierra talks about the unprecedented ways that sharks are currently endangered.

Shark Week: The Podcast - Shipwrecked & Surrounded by Sharks

This week, we do things a little differently, as Shark Week’s Luke Tipple invites Adventure Aaron into the podcast studio to talk about his incredible near-death experience on the open water. Adventure Aaron gets into what it takes to circumnavigate the world in an ocean rowboat, what it’s like to stare eye-to-eye with an oceanic white tip that probably wants you for lunch, and everything else that happened to him when his boat was capsized, and he was lost by himself at sea.

Shark Week: The Podcast - How Many Sharks Are Yet to Be Discovered?

Luke Tipple is joined by Shark Week host and all-around adventurer Forrest Galante. They discuss his upcoming special Alien Sharks: South Africa, Forrest’s remarkable talent for finding creatures once believed to be extinct, and how many shark species may still be unknown. Then, our researcher Sierra stops by to tell us about the world’s most prehistoric shark.

Shark Week: The Podcast - How Did a Shark Encounter Survivor Become an Advocate for Their Protection?

Shark Week’s Luke Tipple welcomes professional photographer Mike Coots, who lost his leg to a tiger shark attack when he was only 18. But after his horrific injury, he came to love sharks, and became a lifelong advocate for their safety. Luke and Mike discuss his career, his love for photographing sharks, and how to positively approach the big life-changing moments that can happen to any of us.

Related To: