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The rare and hideous Goblin Shark

Updated on July 11, 2014

Introduction

The hideous creature depicted in the image below is a Goblin Shark. The goblin shark is an odd and poorly understood species of shark with a worldwide distribution. The species (Mitsukurina owstoni) was first described from a specimen found by a Japanese fisherman, more than a hundred years ago, and scientists still know very little about it.

This strange shark is sometimes termed by researchers as a "living fossil" and truth be told, it does have a prehistoric appearance. Unsurprisingly, it has remained virtually unchanged for the past 125 million years. Today, M. owstoni is the sole surviving representative of the family Mitsukurinidae.

Unlike its other bigger and more predatory cousins, like the Great white shark, the goblin shark poses no real threat to humans as it occurs in waters that are too deep for human contact. As of today, there have been zero recorded attacks to humans.


Goblin Shark
Goblin Shark

Distribution and Habitat

The goblin shark occurs in all three major oceans, although most sightings have been recorded in Japan. Most of the sightings and collected specimens occur at depths of 500 m (1.640 ft) or greater, while individuals have been reported in depths of up to 1.300 m (4265 ft).

Description

Adults have an average length of 3 to 4 meters and an average weight of 160 kg. The longest specimen ever collected was a female, measuring about 6 meters long. It was caught in the Gulf of Mexico.

The goblin shark is easily identified by its long, flattened, dagger-shaped snout. The skin covering it is full of pores on the underside. These pores are believed to be the openings of special sensory organs, called "ampullae of Lorenzini". These organs allow the shark to feel even the slightest electrical fields produced by other animals and help it to hunt in the dark waters it lives.

The species is also easily distinguished by its unique pink coloration. This color is the combined result of its blood vessels and the semi-transparent skin that covers its body. No other shark is "painted" this way! Soon after death, the pink coloration fades away and becomes a dull gray.

Finally, the third distinctive trait of this strange animal is the large, parabolic mouth. The mouth comes with protruding, nail-like teeth that are used for crushing its prey.

Notice the distinctive snout , protrusible jaw and teeth
Notice the distinctive snout , protrusible jaw and teeth

Diet

The goblin shark is a sluggish swimmer that prefers to ambush its prey instead of hunting it actively. Its low-density flesh and large oily liver result in a neutrally buoyant body, allowing it to drift towards its prey with few motions, making the shark very hard to detect.

Studies on the stomachs of dead specimen commonly report rattails and dragonfishes and occasionally squids, decapods and isopods.

Conservation Status

As aforementioned, goblin shark sightings are extremely rare, only a handful per year. However, the species has a worldwide distribution, with most individuals residing in areas with zero or minimal fishing and other human-related activities. For this reason, the species is not believed to be under immediate threat and is listed by the IUCN as of Least Concern.

The video above shows a young individual. As of July 2014, it is the only video on youtube showing an alive specimen!

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