The Goblin Shark is not a pretty shark, and that is being polite. In fact, it is probably one of the strangest-looking and ugliest sharks you are likely to come across. The shark is rarely seen, and it is the only living species of a family of sharks that has otherwise died out. For that reason, it is sometimes referred to as a “living fossil.” It is a large shark, usually 3-4 m (10-13 ft), with a long, protruding snout and an unusual jaw. Let’s see if you know these 10 Goblin Shark facts:
1. The Vampire Shark?
The Goblin Shark is sometimes called the Vampire Shark, as if it wasn’t scary-looking enough to begin with. The reason it is called a vampire is because it avoids the light by living deep in the sea. Goblin Sharks have been found at depths from 270 m to as deep as 1300 m (890 ft to 4300 ft). The vampires avoid the sunlight by sleeping in coffins, but the shark just goes to waters so deep that there is virtually no light.
2. The Goblin Shark Is not as Scary as It Looks
The Goblin Shark mostly feeds on fish, mollusks and crab, and it poses no real danger to humans. It lives in very deep water, far from humans, and it is thought to be a poor swimmer and have bad eyesight. There are no reported incidents of Goblin Sharks attacking humans. On the other hand, Goblin Sharks sometimes fall prey to other sharks, like the Blue Shark, themselves.
3. The Goblin Shark Has a Japanese Name
The scientific name of the Goblin Shark is Mitsukurina Owstoni. That is because the first specimen was found off the coast of Japan in 1898 by a naturalist called Alan Owston. He didn’t know what it was, and passed the strange creature onto a Japanese scientist, Kakichi Mitsuriki. When the shark was finally identified, it was named for these two men. But the name Goblin Shark is also a literal translation of its name in Japanese, tengu-zame. In Japanese mythology, a Tengu is a half-man, half-bird creature with red skin and a long nose, so the name fits.
4. The Ugly Color Is Good Camouflage
The Goblin Shark appears pinkish or even outright red, if it is older, because the blood vessels show through its skin. This is an advantage in deep water, because red looks black in the depths of the sea, and this helps the shark blend in with its surroundings Since the Goblin Shark creeps up on its prey, the camouflage color helps it hide in plain sight.
5. Goblin Sharks Do not Like Being Away from Home
On a few occasions, Goblin Sharks have been caught alive and placed in aquariums. Each time, they have quickly died, living only a few days to a week in captivity, making this one of the sadder Goblin Shark facts. They clearly need their natural habitat in order to survive.
6. Home Is Almost Anywhere with Deep Water
The Goblin Shark has a worldwide distribution. It can be found in all the world’s major oceans. Specimens have been hauled up by fishermen in Brazil, the Gulf of Mexico, France, Portugal and Senegal. It has also been found off the coasts of Japan, South Africa, Taiwan, Australia and even California.
7. An Accordion Jaw
The odd-looking jaw of the Goblin Shark can expand forward to sweep up prey that passes by. Because the shark is slow and clumsy, it can’t rely on hunting down prey, but instead waits for the prey to come near. When the prey is near enough, it snaps its jaw forward to grab it. The jaw is filled with small sharp teeth in the front for grabbing fish, and flatter teeth in the back for grinding up mollusks.
8. That Incredible Nose Is not just for Show
The Goblin Shark has a snout that is elongated and looks like a giant blade, called a rostrum. It protrudes far ahead of its jaw. It seems like an odd body part, but it functions as a prey detector, because it is filled with electroreceptors, called ampullae of Lorenzini. These receptors pick up tiny electrical fields of prey. The Goblin Shark sweeps its long snout back and forth over the seabed, as if the snout were a metal detector, to find its food.
9. Safe from Humans
The Goblin Shark is not considered endangered or threatened, because of its secluded habitat. Just as it lives so far from humans as not to threaten them, its quiet life in the deep sea is far from fishing nets and pollution that could threaten the shark. There are some reports of fishermen fishing for the Goblin Shark in Japan and in Portugal, but fishing for this strange creature is not common.
10. Is the Goblin Shark Really Rare?
The Goblin Shark is often described as being rare. At the same time, specimens have turned up across the globe. It is quite possible that the shark is common rather than rare. The rare thing is that humans come across the shark. Because it has so far proved impossible to keep the shark alive in captivity, and given the deep water in which it lives, knowledge of the shark is limited. Scientists don’t know, for example, exactly how the shark reproduces, because a female with eggs has never been caught. So, it is probably more accurate to say that the shark is rarely seen and that we don’t know much about it, including whether it is common or rare.