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Tiger shark sonogram shows 20 babies baring their teeth

Finally, an ultrasound image worthy of your Facebook feed

Lauren O'Neil - CBC News

June 30, 2016

Discovery's popular Shark Week included a segment this year on what's being called the first-ever 'tiger shark sonogram.' Scientists say that 20 'well-developed' pups, all about 40 centimetres in length, were found inside of this particular shark. (Discovery/YouTube)

The fierce and majestic tiger shark has long had a rough go when it comes to prenatal care.

Not only do pregnant females have to deal with their pups literally eating each other in utero, something that happens in several shark species, many have also been forced to sacrifice their own lives for scientists to cut them open and study what's inside.

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Thanks to technological innovation (and some mildly unsettling ultrasound footage), this is no longer the case.

Expectant tiger sharks can now, for the first time in history, help researchers learn about their species and live to tell about it. They'll even have a sonogram to announce the pregnancy with on Facebook afterward if they should somehow develop the ability to do so.

Are the images creepy? Maybe — but they're also kind of cute. More importantly, they're a marker of success for American scientists who've been working since 2010 to develop a non-lethal method of data collection for shark conservation efforts.

The roughly four-metre tiger shark whose pups are shown above, referred to by researchers as "Emily," is said to be the first-ever animal of her kind to undergo this procedure — and she did it in style with an appearance on Discovery's iconic, annual Shark Week.

The video "Scientists Capture First-Ever Tiger Shark Sonogram" was uploaded Wednesday to Discovery's YouTube channel after airing on Sunday, but the footage featured in the segment was actually shot over the course of a three-year study conducted in the Bahamas at Tiger Beach between 2011 and 2014.

The results of the study were published last month in the journal Aquatic Biology by leading shark researchers Neil Hammerschlag from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, and University of New England's James Sulikowski.

Video footage of the ultrasound process as it was seen on Discovery, however, hadn't been brought to the public prior to this week.

"I've never seen this before," says Sulikowski, whose nickname is "Dr. Shark," in the clip as he views Emily's sonogram. "She was just jam-packed. They are so well-developed. This is amazing! They're about, I guess, 40, 45 centimetres in total length. I can't believe how far along they are."

Emily's shark pups are highlighted for visibility in the video, but their teeth are still incredibly, terrifyingly visible even without an overlay.

Tiger sharks are, after all, known for their sharp, highly serrated chompers — as well as the fact that they'll eat pretty much anything … including a horse's head.

Emily was found to be carrying about 20 pups before she was tagged and let go in the warm, shallow waters of Tiger Beach, but she actually may have started off with more.

According to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the size of a tiger shark's litter is generally quite large, "often comprising from 35 to 55 pups."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lauren O'Neil

Lauren O'Neil covers internet culture, digital trends and the social media beat for CBC News. You can get in touch with her on Twitter at @laurenonizzle.

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