This walking epaulette shark from West Papua is such a recent discovery that it is still in the process of being named.

WE LIVE IN THE INFORMATION AGE. Facts and figures on just about every subject are a few mouse clicks away. In the natural world, we have catalogued and documented our planet, discovered all the interesting animals and feel comfortable in the order we have created.
It used to be very different. A couple of hundred years ago, a naturalist didnt have to travel far to be assured of seeing countless species new to science.
These days everything is known, and if a scientist does turn up a new species, it is usually either a tiny insect or a marine microbe. All the big stuff has been found - or so I thought.
In September 2006, Dr Mark Erdmann of Conservation International published a report about a remote area in West Papua stating that he and his team had found more than 50 new species of marine creatures. So remarkable was the discovery that he dubbed the Cendrawasih Bay area on the southern side of the Birds Head peninsula a species factory.
Even more tantalising was that one of the new species was not just some tiny invertebrate. It was a shark.
Stranger still, the scientists reported that the completely singular evolutionary path this shark has taken gives it pectoral fins uniquely developed for walking.
A shark that walks across the seabed
I was hooked. By November 2006 I was deep in this remote and sparsely populated region of Indonesia, in search of this enigmatic species.
It had remained undiscovered for one simple reason - the remoteness of where it lives. West Papua is not an easy place to reach, and Cendrawasih Bay is one of the remotest parts. Just to access the nearest port (Fak Fak) takes four flights, on increasingly small and rickety planes. It is more than a days travel from Singapore.
The direct, although unreliable, journey home to the UK ended up taking me nearly 100 hours. And as if the logistics werent tough enough, the other problem is that the shark is nocturnal and favours murky shallow water.

MY ADVENTURE BEGAN in the port of Sorong. Not Indonesia at its most charming, this industrial town with an oil refinery and fishing fleet is tucked below forested hills shrouded in grey clouds. The atmosphere is thick with oppressive humidity. You want to get out into the cool ocean breezes as quickly as possible.
We were three days straight sailing from Cendrawasih Bay but, diving along the way on the lush and spectacular reefs of Misool in Raja Ampat, it would take us seven.
Our splendid new liveaboard Seahorse would be the first tourist boat into the new southern Birds Head area.
We were happy to be travelling with Diving 4 Images cruise director Graham Abbott on this exploratory trip.
Originally from the UK, Graham had also guided the scientific expedition to these waters, and without his knowledge we would have seen just a fraction of what we did.
When not working with scientists, Graham works with the likes of National Geographic, the BBC Natural History Unit and the underwater cameramen of the IMAX film crew, so I was confident that if anyone could help me photograph the shark it was him.
We dived the site of Nampele at Misool, where a thick mangrove forest has developed on tiny islands out in clear blue ocean water. As a potential habitat for the walking shark, we were keen to check it out thoroughly.
A real highlight here were the archerfish, which live among the roots of the mangroves and spit water to shoot down insects from the branches above.
However, after much searching it was clear that the new species of shark wasnt here. This may have been frustrating photographically, but at least it was reassuring scientifically to know that the species was restricted to the Cendrawasih Bay area.
The walking shark for which we were searching has yet to be formally described by scientists, but when it is, it will certainly be placed in the genus Hemiscyllium - the epaulette sharks.
This group of small benthic sharks lives in shallow waters around Australia, PNG and eastern Indonesia (at least). The sharks lay eggs which they attach to the reef and these hatch as small (15cm) versions of the 1m adults.
Because neither the attached eggs or slow-walking adults move very much, their populations can become isolated from each other by the complex geography, deep water and strong currents of the Indonesian/Papuan archipelago. Once isolated, these populations slowly change, adapting to their specific conditions, and this divergence produces separate species in each location.
By contrast most reef fish and invertebrates are widely dispersed, because they produce pelagic larvae that float between reefs on the currents before settling down to their adult lives.
Moorish idols, for example, are found on reefs from the Red Sea right across the Indo-Pacific region to Peru, because of their long-lived pelagic larval stage.

AFTER A WEEK AT SEA, exploring the reefs around the southern side of Misool, we finally reached the dramatic landscape of the southern Birds Head peninsula. This region of West Papua
is very sparsely populated, with hundreds of miles of virgin coastline - dramatic seacliffs, dense rainforest and beautiful beaches tucked in between towering rocks.
Under water, this area not only supports an incredible diversity of species, but they are packed onto the reef like sardines.
Kangaroo Bay is named after the marsupials often be seen on the shore, and its dive site holds the record for the most diverse fish life anywhere. Ichthyologist Dr Gerry Allen is famous for his fish-species counts on single dives around the world. Raja Ampat once held the record, then it was Halmahera, and now it is the southern Birds Head.
Gerry broke his previous record from Halmahera, twice, Graham told us, and here at Gerrys Delight he documented 330 species - the current world-record fish species count for a dive site. All those species - but no walking sharks.
The next area was even more spectacular, and we couldnt get enough of an unbelievably rich site called Little Komodo - I made six dives here.
Gerry came up from his first dive and was raving, said Graham. Even before he got in the tender boat he was shouting that the profusion of colour and life reminded him of the first time he ever dived Komodo 15-20 years ago.
Little Komodo is one of the best of the best. An island in a channel, it is exposed to strong currents, so is covered in lush corals and teeming with fish life, but not just small schooling fish.
The island is home to many Napoleon wrasse, barramundi cod, wobbegong sharks and, very intimidating, monstrous Queensland groupers. Many of these giants are in their full adult black coloration, rather than their commonly seen spotty sub-adult dress.
This trip was revealing the richest reefs I had seen, but where was the walking shark Diving night after night with wide-angle lenses was getting frustrating. I saw wobbegongs everywhere, and coral cat sharks, but no shark taking a stroll along the seabed!
Most infuriatingly, on one night dive several of the group found a young walking shark in waist-deep water. I saw them photographing something, but it was so shallow I decided it couldnt have been anything interesting. Big mistake.

SO, LIKE ANY GOOD WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHY STORY, it all came down to the final night dive of the trip.
Photographing the shark under natural conditions in the dark had been a main aim. The scientists, keen to record their discovery, had managed to persuade one into the open in daylight for the all-important record shot, but I wanted a more realistic portrait of the shark, walking in the dark.
Graham had recced the site during the day and felt it was the perfect environment for walkers. But he hadnt dived there before, and I was nervous that we were backing it for this Last Chance Saloon night dive.
As it happened, my worries were quickly dispelled. We found our first walking shark three minutes into the dive, and I spent more than an hour watching and photographing at least six. We christened the site Walkers Patch.
The sharks were the most intriguing creatures. Standing on their pectoral and pelvic fins, they would walk around the seabed hunting molluscs and crustaceans. Their sinuous motion was rather like that of a lizard, and I never saw one revert to swimming!
There were both males and females on this small reef, and the long calcified claspers of the males clearly indicated that they were adults.
Cendrawasih Bay is a biodiversity wonder, one of the worlds most pristine marine eco-systems. The walking shark is just one of its many treasures, but it seems that this charismatic creature is leading the way for successful conservation of this richest realm.
On 20 September 2007, the Blue Auction was held at the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco, selling off chances for companies and individuals to have their names incorporated into scientific names of the new species discovered.
Most prestigious lot was the walking shark. Over US $2 million was raised for conservation efforts in the Cendrawasih Bay area. Not bad for a species we didnt know existed a year ago.

On
On the trail of the walking shark.
This
This picture of the walking shark shows how high it lifts its head off the ground as it perches on its pectoral fins.
Divernet Divernet
Reefs Revealed
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Walking sharks are among the many coral-reef subjects covered in Alex Mustards impressive new book of underwater photography, which is entitled Reefs Revealed.
A marine scientist, Mustard has set out to capture the natural behaviour of marine life on reefs around the world, from the Red Sea and Indian Ocean to the Pacific, South-east Asia and Caribbean. Specialising in natural-light digital filter photography, his work has won first places in both the prestigious BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year Awards and the Antibes World Underwater Image Festival.
Reefs Revealed is published by Constable & Robinson (ISBN 9781845296346, www.constablerobinson.com) and costs £30.