- Recently, a Facebook page stated that a baby shark with a “human face” was caught by fishermen in Indonesia.
- Similar news was first shared on the Indonesian news website Viva on Feb. 23, 2021. The report said that a mature pregnant female shark was found off the coast in Rote Ndao in East Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia. A baby shark with what appears to be a human face was found in the belly of the pregnant shark.
- Professor Qiu Jianwen, Professor and Associate Head of the Department of Biology at Hong Kong Baptist University, said it is impossible to determine what species it belongs to without physical examination of this creature. The sharks’ eyes are usually located on the lateral side of the skull, not on the ventral side of the body.
- Photos from Indonesian police and a video clip from the internet confirmed the existence of a baby shark with a “human face” in Indonesia. The local nature conservation centre staff confirmed that the baby shark, about 20 cm in length and about 300 grams in weight, is a foetus. Experts consider it might be either a case of cyclopia, a kind of birth defect, or a case of undeveloped embryo of blacktip reef shark. Once the embryo is developed, its appearance will be back to normal.
- Therefore, we rate the claim TRUE.
The Facebook page “Why Do We Dream” published a post on Feb. 24, 2021. It stated that an Indonesian fisherman recently caught a pregnant shark and found three baby sharks in its stomach, one of which had a human-like “baby face.” A link to the full report on Orange News was enclosed. The Facebook page, mainly sharing real-life news, currently has over 100,000 followers.
The post had been shared 29 times and received 17 comments and 676 likes or mood responses till the release of this report.
The claim questions: Is it true that a baby shark with a human-like “baby face” was found in Indonesia?
The earliest news of such a discovery can be traced back to a report on Viva, an Indonesian website, published on Feb. 23, 2021. The report said that a 48-year-old fisherman named Abdullah Nuren caught a pregnant shark off the coast of Rote Ndao in East Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia. He found three baby sharks in its stomach. One of them had a unique appearance of two large eyes underneath its nose and human-like lips.
The YouTube channel of Viral Press (a news agency specialising in licensing video and an official content partner of the Associated Press) released a video about this bizarre shark on Feb. 24, 2021. The video shows a man holding what appears to be a juvenile shark, the size of an adult’s hand, with two eyes growing ventrally, a slightly open mouth and a human-like face.
In an article published on the Indonesian news website Tribun News, a picture provided by Indonesian National Police (see screenshot below) shows a juvenile shark which has the same appearance as the one in the claim, thus, to prove the veracity of the photos in the claim. In the article, Timbul Batubara, Head of the East Nusa Tenggara Nature Conservation Centre, said the centre’s staff visited the fishermen who caught the shark and found the foetus of the baby shark, about 20 cm in length and about 300 grams in weight, was placed in a container filled with alcohol. In another report published on news website “Antara News,” a photo shows staff of the East Nusa Tenggara Nature Conservation Centre held the baby shark with the fishermen who caught it (see screenshot below).
In response to our inquiry, Professor Qiu Jianwen, Professor and Associate Head of the Department of Biology at Hong Kong Baptist University, said that without physical examination it cannot be concluded whether such a mutant shark exists or not. However, the sharks’ eyes are normally located on the lateral side of the skull, not the ventral side. According to the claim and relevant news reports, the eyes of this creature found in Indonesia were located on the ventral side.
In a report published by Kompas, an Indonesian national newspaper, Iman Fauzi, Head of the Kupang National Marine Conservation Areas, said that it is a normal condition for blacktip reef sharks. The distinctive human-like face of the baby shark is due to the undeveloped embryo in the mother’s womb, and they will be born with the sharks’ normal appearance, he said.
Selvia Oktaviyani, a researcher at the Oceanography Centre of the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, and Professor J. Mosse, a fish expert at the School of Fisheries and Marine Sciences of Pattimura University in Indonesia, said that the shark’s bizarre appearance is cyclopia. Okataviyani considered the baby shark might have a genetic disorder or defect. Professor Mosse suggested that the genes of the baby shark may have failed to direct the production of proteins required for brain development.
In a news article published by the British newspaper Mirror, Dr. David Shiffman, a marine biologist at the UK Marine Stewardship Council, said the distinctive appearance was due to birth defect. “Some experts I follow are reporting it may be a case of partial cyclopia with one fused orbit but still two eyes,” he said.
Similar cases of mutant sharks have been found in the past. The National Geographic website published an article in 2011, describing a rare one-eyed shark foetus found by Mexican fishermen. The foetus had a single functioning eye at the front of its head. The scientists of the Interdisciplinary Centre of Marine Sciences in La Paz, Mexico conducted an x-ray examination of the shark’s embryo and reviewed previous research on cyclopia in other species, confirming that it is a cyclopia shark.
Based on expert opinions and photos and video clips in news reports, the juvenile shark with a “human-face” does exist in Indonesia. This might be a case of cyclopia, or an undeveloped shark foetus.
Therefore, we rate the claim TRUE.
- Facebook post, February 24, 2021
- Orange News, “Mutant baby shark with cartoon ‘human-face’ found in Indonesia,” February 24, 2021
- Viva, “Ikan Hiu Mirip Wajah Manusia Ditemukan di Rote (Human-faced shark found in Rote),” February 23, 2021
- Viral Press, YouTube video, February 24, 2021
- Tribun News, “Viral Bayi Hiu di Rote Ndao Menyerupai Wajah Manusia, BKSDA NTT: Indikasi Cacat Bawaan (Widely circulating photos of a shark with what appears to be a ‘human face’),” February 28, 2021
- Antara News, “Ada bayi hiu berwajah mirip manusia di NTT (A shark with ‘human face’ found in East Nusa Tenggara),” February 28, 2021
- Kompas, “Sejumlah Temuan Hiu yang Menggegerkan di Indonesia, Berwajah Mirip Manusia hingga Bermata Satu, Ini Penjelasannya (Bizarre sharks found in Indonesia, from ‘human face’ to ‘single eye.’ This is how we explain it.),” February 28, 2021
- Mirror, UK, “Mutant baby shark discovered by fisherman with ‘human face due to rare condition,’” February 23, 2021
- National Geographic, “Pictures: Rare ‘Cyclops’ Shark Found,” October 15, 2011