Grey Nurse vs Sandtiger

Alex queried SHARK-L stating, "In the book Shark Attack by H. David Baldridge, the Australian Grey Nurse is listed as Odontaspis arenarius and also in The Book of Sharks by Richard Ellis. Lately though it has been confirmed that these are the same SANDTIGER we know as Carcharias taurus."

I responded:

Only if one is prepared to accept Leonard Compagno's provisional pronouncements without question something which Compagno himself, as a first-rate scholar, would probably not advocate.

The synonymy of the Australian Grey Nurse Shark with the American Sandtiger is not as rock-solid as some would have you believe. As a shallow coastal species showing no tendency to cross large expanses of deep water, the Grey Nurse is almost certainly reproductively isolated from North American representatives of the genus and has dentition that is significantly and consistently stouter than that of the Sandtiger. I know several reputable researchers who would fully support recognition of the Grey Nurse as a valid species distinct from the Sandtiger; should this view become widely accepted, the name Carcharias arenarius would have priority for the former species and C. taurus would be retained for the latter.

My point here is that Science, by its very nature, is tentative. The moment one ceases to question, Science as a process grinds to a halt. Compagno is an internationally respected scientist and he does very, very good work. But no scientist's work is so good that it is beyond question.

Continually testing and refining hypotheses is essential to how the scientific game is played. Any scientist worth his credentials understands and accepts this. This is not a matter of being disrespectful of an accomplished man's career; it is a matter of recognizing the fallibility of human beings and of humility before Nature.

Food for thought? 


    R. Aidan Martin 

Originally posted to SHARK-L, January 15, 1999


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Text and illustrations R. Aidan Martin
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