SANTA CRUZ -- After 60 days on a commercial fishing boat, 1,000 miles from land, San Jose State researcher Paul Clerkin discovered never-before-seen sharks, which will be featured on Discovery Channel's "Shark Week" on Tuesday.

Clerkin, 29, first ventured to the southern Indian Ocean with the fishing crew to catalog their shark bycatch in 2012. In two months, he encountered 23 types of sharks, eight of which were new species.

Clerkin, a master's student researching at Moss Landing Marine Labs, returned to the boat in March, this time with a Discovery Channel film crew for "Alien Sharks." Clerkin said he's not allowed to say how many new species he discovered this year, but he's pleased with the trip's success.

Paul Clerkin traveled to the southern Indian Ocean to look for unusual and rarely photographed deep-sea sharks. (Discovery Channel -- Contributed)
Paul Clerkin traveled to the southern Indian Ocean to look for unusual and rarely photographed deep-sea sharks. (Discovery Channel -- Contributed)

"Sharks come in all different sizes, (with) big pieces, little pieces, different colors, different roles in the food web," Clerkin said. "Myself, that's what I love: seeing all these different, weird sharks."

The episode includes footage of a new species of ghost shark, yet unnamed, with a brown body, purple fins and thick head.

What's most distinctive about this watermelon-sized shark is a venomous, barbed spine emerging from its dorsal fin, which it can move independently, Clerkin said.

Clerkin also discovered a new species of demon catshark, a type of evil-looking shark with cat-like eyes.

The new species has a large mouth filled with spiky needle-shaped teeth and a black body covered in scars, probably from mating, he said.


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"It looks like a bodyguard or a bouncer of catsharks," Clerkin said. "It has a robust, big body. It looks kind of like a bulldog body, if you can imagine that for a shark."

On Clerkin's first trip, he saw a 10-foot long false catshark, also known as a microdon, give birth on the ship's deck. Besides its tiny teeth, the size of a grain of sand, what's interesting about this shark is that its pups eat each other in the mother's two uteri. The two babies that eventually emerge are the victors in a battle somewhere between one to three years long, Clerkin said.

Clerkin said he watched the mother eject a 4-foot long pup, likely minutes after she had birthed its sibling under water. The crew threw the pup overboard.

Clerkin said scientists get excited when he shows photos and data of the microdon, since many call the shark rare, but he doesn't believe that's true.

"I think it's the fact that the area I'm working on is 1,000 miles from the closest mass of land," Clerkin said. "Out there, it's not very well researched."

As for next steps for his research, Clerkin said he has to focus on completing his thesis, which describes the 23 shark species he encountered and two of the new ones. Then he can start publishing the discoveries of the new species -- which he also gets to name, he said.

Sacramento native Paul Clerkin, a San Jose State graduate student, will be featured on Discovery Channel’s ’Alien Sharks.’ (Discovery
Sacramento native Paul Clerkin, a San Jose State graduate student, will be featured on Discovery Channel's 'Alien Sharks.' (Discovery Channel -- Contributed)

Clerkin said he plans to continue exploring the southern Indian Ocean, as well as other poorly studied places around the globe.

"That's the thing with the ocean -- it's incredibly underexplored," Clerkin said. "So I don't know if I'll ever really be done exploring."



Moss Landing Marine Laboratory shark researcher Paul Clerkin cradles a rare species of sharks being featured on Discovery Channel’s ’Shark
Moss Landing Marine Laboratory shark researcher Paul Clerkin cradles a rare species of sharks being featured on Discovery Channel's 'Shark Week.' (Discovery Channel -- Contributed)