More on Sharks

How a shark gets its name

Many deep-sea sharks have multiple common names, or nicknames, and sometimes a nickname gets assigned to multiple species of shark.
For example, demon catsharks (aka the genus Apristurus) are sometimes called ghost catsharks, which can be mistaken for ghost sharks (aka chimaeras).


Image courtesy of Discovery Channel


And some regions call ghost sharks “silver sharks,” which is also a name for a tiny species of fish, Balantiocheilos melanopterus.
Additionally, the leopard shark, Triakis semifasciata, shares its nickname with Stegostoma fasciatum, more commonly known as the zebra shark.
The list goes on.
Common names for sharks can catch on in different ways for different reasons. Species that share a common name don’t necessarily have anything in common taxonomically.
Sometimes a region will nickname a shark that a region halfway across the world will nickname another shark. Or a fishery will assign one common name to two morphometrically similar sharks, unintentionally making it difficult to assess their individual vulnerabilities. Or a nickname will trend for a shark that already has a popular common name. Nicknames can be confusing.
Luckily, it’s avoidable, thanks to Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus, who ennobled the official Latin-based “name barcode” to keep track of all animals through the authority of kingdom, phylum, class, subclass, superorder, order, family, genus and species. By the Linnaeus system, each animal known to science carries a binomial nomenclature, with its genus as its surname and its species as its given name. Think: Smith john.

While common names can be descriptive or noble nicknames, using the Linnaeus system insures clarity when sharing information on animals. Regardless, who can resist from referring to the Apristurus catsharks as “Demon catsharks”?


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