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The Greenland shark

Updated on September 30, 2008
A Greenland shark
A Greenland shark

Prelude

Ever since men entered the sea, one way or the other, they have shared stories about sharks. Sharks have been a part of the culture of seafarers from whom ocean stories were heard. They were either feared or revered. As men travelled by sea, stories and poems were the only way to know them. Even today, the more we learn about them, the more curious we are. Still, these magnificent creatures are often misunderstood. There are more than 450 shark species known to men and not all of them are studied thoroughly. Greenland shark is one of them. This shark has been known to men living in the far northern hemisphere long ago, but not much has been studied and their population is obscure.

The little known facts

The Greenland shark, Somniosus microcephalus, is one of the very few sharks known to inhabit the polar waters throughout the year. For someone who is new to the shark, one can easily be made familiar when we refer to Hakari, the fermented shark meat from Iceland. It is not by gluttony, but by necessity that this fermentation is done. The poison from the fish is neutralised this way. Greenland sharks or the Sleeper sharks are found throughout the Arctic waters and also along the coast of Greenland and its fjords waterways, hence the name Greenland shark. They are, sometimes, seen as far south as the the Gulf of saint Lawrence, the Gulf of Maine and Seine in France, but at greater depths than the north. Despite their apathy, they are known to prey on much agile animals like Seals, Salmons and other fishes. However, cases of cannibalism are also heard of, as they are immune to their poison. Greenland sharks are opportunists and may occasionally feed on carcasses of Arctic whales, dead horses and even antlered Caribou. One specimen, caught off the Norwegian Archipelago of Svalbard, was reported to contain a Polar bear jaw in its stomach.

Greenland sharks are known to grow up to 6.5 m in length and weigh up to 2000 lb. Average sharks are 2-4 meters in length. They are deep-water sharks, living at depths up to 2200 metres (off the coast of Georgia). In the northern parts of their range, they are found at depths of 0-1200 meters. They are also called Grey shark owing to their grayish coloration. Brown specimens are also common.

These sharks may be cannibalistic, but no Greenland shark attack has been reported in the last hundred years. Many of these sharks are known to have Copepods attached to their eye.This damages the eyes and makes the shark literally blind. But, blindness doesn't seem to effect them in the dark ice covered water. Not much is known of their life yet. No one has ever seen their mating and no research could report to how long they can live. Many facts of the Greenland shark are still shrouded in mystery.

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