The Greenland Shark, also known as the Grey Shark or Gurry Shark, or Eqalussuaq among Inuit peoples, is a large shark found in the Northern Atlantic. The Greenland Shark is often mistaken for Great White Sharks because of their massive size. They reach up to 24 feet (7.2 meter) in length and weigh up to 3,100 lbs (1,400 kg). The belong to the Somniosidae, or Sleeper Shark family, so they physically resemble Dogfish Sharks. These sharks have very unique habitat, behaviors, and long relationship with humanity. Here are ten interesting shark facts about this amazing species:
1. Greenland Sharks Love Cold Water
Greenland Sharks are the only true sub-Arctic shark and they live in cold waters of the North Atlantic around Iceland, Greenland, and Canada year round. Greenland Sharks prefer very cold waters with temperatures of 30.2°F-50°F (-1°C-10°C). During the summer months they will migrate deeper into the water where it is very cold, and in the winter they will swim to the surface.
2. Greenland Sharks Can And Will Eat Anything
Greenland Sharks have a voracious appetite and will eat almost anything. Typically they eat eels, lumpfish, flounder, and other small sharks, but they will also eat carrion, the meat of dead animals. They have also been known to eat land animals. Greenland Sharks have been found with a polar bear jaw, an entire reindeer, horse bones, and a moose hide in their stomachs.
3. Greenland Sharks Live A Very Long Time
Some scientists estimate that Greenland Sharks can live around 200 years. This is based on the growth rate of the sharks. Greenland sharks grow 0.2-0.4 in (0.5-1 cm) per year. So a mature 22.9 ft (7 m) shark can be assumed to be over 200 years old. So Greenland Sharks may be one of the oldest living animals on the planet.
4. Greenland Sharks Swim Very Slowly
Greenland Sharks are part of the Sleeper Shark family. Species of sharks in the Sleeper Sharks are named so because they tend to swim incredibly slowly. Greenland Sharks are one of the slowest swimming sharks on the planet, slow even for a Sleeper Shark. They tend to only move at 0.76 mph (0.3 m/s). However, they are capable of quick bursts of speed when attacking prey.
5. Greenland Sharks Can Swim Very Deep
Greenland Sharks migrate into deeper, colder waters during the summer months. During this time they can be found as deep as 7200 ft (2200 m). Scientists off the coast of Brazil believe they have observed a Greenland Shark at 9,098 ft (2,773 m) but since this is out of the range of their known habitat, it is possible it was a Pacific Sleeper Shark.
6. Greenland Sharks Have Very Unusual Teeth
Greenland Sharks have 48-52 thin, pointed upper teeth and 50-52 square, smooth cusped bottom teeth that curve sideways. The upper teeth grasp the prey while the lower teeth grind the flesh. What makes their teeth truly unusual is that like the Cookiecutter Shark, Greenland Sharks can cut a plug into the flesh of its prey. By swinging its head in a circular motion, it can use its teeth to cut out a chunk. This is extremely useful because Greenland Sharks can feed on prey that is otherwise too large to kill.
7. Greenland Sharks Are Very Mysterious
Though they have been caught and used as a food source for centuries, Greenland Sharks are rarely observed in the wild. Since they tend to swim in deeper waters and in the hostile, cold environments of the North Atlantic, humans have a difficult time seeing them in the wild. It wasn’t until 1995 that scientists were able to capture the first pictures of a Greenland Shark swimming in its natural habitat. Then in 2003, the first and only video footage of a Greenland Shark swimming was taken.
8. Greenland Sharks May Be Behind The Myth Of The Loch Ness Monster
Greenland Sharks have been observed hunting in brackish waters, so they may have a short term tolerance for fresh water, so it is possible that they could enter the Loch Ness through channels hunting for food. Greenland Sharks are also very large in size and would be a very unusual sight in the waters of the Loch Ness. So some scientists believe that the Loch Ness Monster may actually be sightings of a Greenland Shark outside of their natural habitat.
9. Greenland Sharks Are An Important Part Of Inuit Lore
Inuit peoples have many legends about Greenland Sharks. Igloolik Inuit believe that the shark lives in the urine pot of Senda, the goddess of the ocean. Another legend from the Pangnirtung Inuit states that the Greenland Shark was born after a woman washed her hair in urine and dried it with a cloth. That cloth blew into the ocean and become the Greenland Shark. The Greenland Shark is also highly respected as a helping spirit.
10. Greenland Sharks Have The Most Toxic Meat Of Any Shark
Greenland Shark meat contains a high concentration of the neurotoxin trimethylamine oxide which can cause a feeling of drunkenness if consumed. Greenland Shark meat also contains a very high level of urea, which has a urine-like odor. Their meat can only be consumed if it is boiled, dried, or fermented for several months. Greenland Shark meat is used for the national dish of Iceland, hakarl, which is noted internationally for it’s strong urine smell and unpleasant taste. Many have referred to hakarl as one of the “worst foods on the planet.”
Greenland Sharks are a truly unique species of shark.
Their massive size and unique habitat have inspired myths about them across the diverse cultures of the Northern Atlantic.
Though they are slow moving, they can be fearsome predators with a varied diet. Humans rarely observe them in their natural habitat, their toxic meat is a part of the national heritage of Iceland, so there is quite a bit known about them. These 10 interesting shark facts are just some of the things that make the Greenland Sharks a fascinating species.