The ocean is host to around 440 shark species. Some sharks are teeny tiny, like the 7-inch dwarf lantern shark, and some sharks are gargantuan, like the 40-foot whale shark. There are fast sharks like the mako, which swims 45 miles per hour, and there are slow sharks like the Greenland, which swims less than one mile per hour. There are spiny sharks and smooth sharks, flat sharks and fat sharks. And blue sharks and green sharks and gray sharks and spotted sharks.
And there are strange sharks. Very, very strange sharks. Case in point is the goblin shark, one of the most rarely seen shark species on the planet. What makes the goblin shark so odd? For starters, goblins are the only ones that come in pink.
1. This Goblin Is PINK!
Yes, goblin sharks are pink. It sounds cute, doesn’t it? But although beauty is in the eye of the beholder, there’s no question that the goblin shark will probably never win a beauty contest.
The upper half of the goblin shark is actually very pale grey in color, and its belly is whitish, but since the goblin’s soft, rubbery skin is semi-transparent, its blood vessels are visible just under the skin and show through to give it an overall pink tint.
Unlike most sharks, which are sleek and graceful, goblin sharks are rather flabby, and they have small, rounded fins. For these reasons, scientists believe that goblin sharks are probably pretty sluggish, which means that they won’t win any races, either.
So we have a pink, flabby, small-finned shark. Those features alone make it highly unique, but what really sets this guy apart from his cousins is his head. Two very small eyes sit on top, slightly off to the sides, and the head transitions into a long, flat, sword-shaped snout. Beneath the snout are the goblin’s jaws, which protrude to about the one-third mark of the snout. These amazing jaws are extendable. When prey is nearby, the goblin shark can extend its jaws as far as to the end of its long snout and either snatch it or suck it in.
The goblin shark’s jaws are home to up to 53 rows of teeth in the upper portion and up to 62 rows in the lower jaw. Unlike most sharks, which have sharp, serrated triangular teeth, the goblin shark’s teeth resemble long, sharp thorns in the front a
and sides of its jaws, and in the back, they’re small and flat, elegantly designed for crushing.
2. Goblins Are A Rare Discovery!
Goblin sharks are rarely seen, but when fishermen do spot them, they often initially think they’re looking at a disabled or disfigured shark. The goblin shark was first discovered off the coast of Japan in 1898. Japanese fishermen called it “tenguzame,” which, in Japanese culture, is a mythical creature with a red face and a long nose. Loosely translated, “tenguzame” means “goblin,” and that’s how the goblin shark got its common name.
When the goblin shark was discovered, scientists were excited to find out that they weren’t just dealing with a new species of shark, but also with a whole new genus (Mitsukurinidae) and family (Mitsukurina.) The first goblin shark was caught by a shipmaster and naturalist named Alan Owston. Owston turned the shark over to Professor Kakinchi Mitsukuri over at the University of Tokyo, who in turn handed it off to American ichthyologist David Starr Jordan. Jordan was tasked with naming the shark, and he chose to call it Mitsukurina owstoni after the two men who first handled the beast.
The goblin shark has other names, too. It’s often referred to as the elfin shark, and because it doesn’t seem to enjoy sunlight even a little bit, and perhaps also because of its long, sharp teeth, the goblin shark is also known as the “vampire shark.” But the most interesting nickname given to this shark is “living fossil,” because it’s the last known member of an ancient lineage that emerged during the Cretaceous period around 125 million years ago.
3. You Can Find Them In The Deep, Dark, & Icy Oceans
The main reason goblin sharks are so rarely seen is that they prefer deep, dark, and icy cold waters. Goblin sharks are known to live between 330 and 4,300 feet below the surface, with younger sharks closer to the surface and older ones closer to the ocean floor.
And that’s a good thing for the goblin sharks, because their deep-sea habitat means that they’re rarely captured by accident in the nets or on the lines of fishermen. This fact, along with evidence of wide distribution across many ocean regions, has led the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to give goblin sharks a Red List status of “least concern.” So although they’re the last living species of the family Mitsukurinidae, it doesn’t look like they’ll go extinct any time soon, unlike the 30-some species that are considered “endangered” and “vulnerable,” largely due to over-fishing.
Since goblin sharks are so rarely seen and caught, they’re one of the most mysterious shark species in the sea. Over 100 years after its discovery, scientists still aren’t sure how the goblin shark reproduces, because they’ve never had the opportunity to study a pregnant female. But it’s assumed that the female goblin shark gives birth to live pups like the other species in the order Lamniformes, also known as the mackerel sharks.
4. Like All Goblins, They Like To Hunt In The Dark
So how do goblin sharks hunt for prey when they live in such a deep, dark environment? Well, they, like all sharks, have a specialized sense organ called the “ampullae of Lorenzini,” which is located on a shark’s snout. The ampullae of Lorenzini allows the shark to detect even very weak electrical impulses given off by the living things around them. The long snout of the goblin shark means that its ampullae of Lorenzini are widely distributed along the length and are particularly sensitive, compared to those of other species.
Since the flabby, short-finned goblin shark likely isn’t much of a speed demon, it probably doesn’t go after its prey like, say, the super fast great white shark. Rather, scientists believe that its low-density flesh and its enormous, oily liver serve to make the goblin shark extra buoyant so that it can ambush its prey by floating closer and closer with minimal fin movements, making it hard for dinner to sense its presence. Once it’s close enough, the jaws extend out and open up, and the shark either grabs its pretty or sucks it in like an underwater vacuum cleaner.
There’s still a lot to discover and learn about the goblin shark. Until more is known, we’ll continue to revere these odd deep-sea monsters as the most unique sharks in the wide-open, deep-down waters of the world’s oceans.