MANILA (AFP) - - A megamouth shark, one of the world's most elusive species, was caught, carved up and eaten by fishermen from a town in the Philippines, the environmental conservation group WWF said Tuesday.
So rare are megamouth shark sightings that each find is given a number -- this one, caught by fishermen from the coastal town of Donsol, was only the 41st ever seen or captured in the world.
But Elson Aca, a Donsol WWF representative, said it was butchered and its meat sauteed in coconut milk as a local delicacy, against the organisation's advice.
The four-metre (13-foot), half-tonne (1,100-pound) megamouth was snared by fishermen trawling for mackerel off the Bicol peninsula on Luzon island.
The species, which is named after its metre-wide mouth, is a fairly recent scientific discovery. The first specimen was caught off Oahu, Hawaii in 1976, the WWF said.
The scientific community hailed it as the 20th centurys most significant marine find, it added. Together with the whale shark it is one of only three filter-feeding shark species in the world.
It is classified by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature as "data deficient" because so few have ever been studied.
Ironically Donsol has earned a global reputation for marine conservation, after campaigners convinced the locals to stop butchering giant whale sharks which use the nearby waters to feed.
The town prides itself as the whale shark capital of the world and marine tourism is a key money earner.
The Philippines sits at the apex of a so-called Coral Triangle, considered by experts as a world centre for marine bio-diversity.