‘Like a Roman hoard’: calls grow for return of Hampshire shark’s body parts

The discovery of a rare shark on a Hampshire beach is as valuable as the unearthing of an ancient treasure trove, an expert has said, as calls grow for the return of the head, tail and fin, which were removed before scientists could salvage the carcass.

The 2-metre (6ft) animal, believed to be a smalltooth sand tiger shark, would normally only be seen in warmer waters – and rarely anywhere north of the Bay of Biscay. Scientists believe the weekend discovery can help them learn more about how the species develops and lives its life.

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“Every time we see a whale breaching or a shark washing up, this is like finding a Roman hoard or Viking daggers,” said Dr Ben Garrod, a professor of evolutionary biology at the University of East Anglia. “The oceans cover 71 or 72% of our planet, however it’s still incredibly mysterious.”

He told the BBC studying the carcass could offer an insight into feeding patterns and water temperatures, depending on how healthy the shark was prior to its death.

The historian Dan Snow is among those to have called for the missing body parts to be returned – even if only temporarily to allow scientists to examine them. “The head, tail and fin were grabbed before I assembled a big enough team to drag it off the beach to the nearest road. We went to secure the shark for science last night. But we were too late,” he said on Twitter.

“Please, please – if you have the head get in touch. The scientists want to have a look at it, and then it’s yours to keep.”

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Snow said he put the remainder of the corpse in a local farmer’s fridge, where it will be stored until Tuesday, when the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) is due to collect it. On Monday, the organisation confirmed its researchers were to analyse the shark as part of the ZSL-led Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme (CSIP).

The Shark Trust, which promotes conservation of the hundreds of species of the animals, said the discovery was “exciting”.

A spokesperson said: “The head in particular holds the key to unlocking intricate details of the shark’s life, even from before birth, so we’d welcome news of its whereabouts.

“Sighting records like this help shape our knowledge of species distributions. This sighting may have been a vagrant, but, by maintaining records of occasional finds, new patterns may start to emerge, making all records important.”

The trust added that it was able to identify the species from pictures circulating online, adding: “Despite their circumglobal distribution, smalltooth sand tigers are seldom encountered and considered naturally rare … With smalltooth sand tigers likely exceptionally rare visitors north of Biscay, this report is an exciting one.”