The words ‘goblin shark’ should paint a mental picture for you of a mysteriously looking, unusual kind of underwater creature. As it turns out, chances are few that you would even encounter one in open waters, and you may never see one in an aquarium, either. They are elusive, deep-water, bottom-living sharks that are nothing like any other shark in existence.
Because the Goblin Shark lives in such deep water, it does not have the tough skin of distant relatives. It is a slow-moving shark. It has hundreds of teeth, a highly sensitive sensory system that helps it to locate food and it has a long protrusion from the top of its head that sort of works like a radar beacon.
It’s weird, it’s unusual and it’s a wonderful and ancient species.
Goblin Shark History
The Goblin Shark was first discovered off of Yokohama, Japan in 1898. Since then the shark has been located in a handful of locations around the world. It is not considered a widely distributed shark, but one that has populated ‘pockets’ of regions it resides.
The Goblin Shark lives in the tropical eastern Pacific, Caribbean, eastern north Atlantic/Mediterranean, southern African, southeast Australian/New Zealand and Japanese waters.
The first recorded Goblin Shark in the United States was one that was captured in September 1998 off of southern California. It was in a drift gillnetter. Other discoveries include them showing up as by-catches on deep-sea long lines. There also appears to be a large number of them off of the coast near Madeira, Portugal.
Giving credence to the suggested habitat of the Goblin Shark being in extremely deep waters was an unusual find. A tooth of one of them was located embedded in an undersea cable that was resting on the bottom of the Indian Ocean. That cable was at a depth of 750 fathoms (1,370 meters).
An immature Goblin Shark was captured in April 1998. It was off the coast of Kaikoura, New Zealand and in a bottom gill net set at the depth of 1,050 to 1,455 feet (up to 440 meters).
Because few Goblin Sharks are actually captured, the distribution of the animal is hard to pin down precisely. The stomach of this particular one was mostly empty.
Goblin Shark Appearance
The Goblin Shark has a very distinct appearance that differs a great deal from most of the other shark species. The most prominent feature is a long, flattened snout that extends out from the top of the sharks head. It resembles the shape of a sword blade.
The jaws of the Goblin Shark are protrusive and contain a massive amount of teeth. In fact, the upper jaw can contain between 35 and 53 rows of teeth.
You read that correctly, rows of teeth. The lower jaw is just as full of chewing, ripping and shredding power as it contains 31 to 62 rows of teeth. As if that wasn’t enough in the dental details, the teeth of this shark vary in length and width. The design usually follows the pattern where the teeth closer to the center of the jaw are longer than those that are further back.
The Goblin Shark has a thin body and its skin is covered with dermal denticals. The sharks have a pinkish hue simply because the blood vessels are located close to the skin. There are five pairs of gill slits and several fins including:
- Two small, rounded dorsal fins
- Short, wide pectoral fins
- One anal fin (smaller in size than the dorsal fins)
- One caudal fin with a slightly deformed lower lobe
This shark is described as being medium in size with adults growing to lengths of between 3 and 4 meters. The Goblin Shark can weigh between 200 and 210 kilograms. The ‘tongue’ of the shark is large and very mobile and the gill muscles and throat are expandable.
By working all of these elements in unison, the Goblin Shark can essentially vacuum food into its mouth that just happens to be swimming by. This includes even strong swimming prey.
One more thing that separates the Goblin Shark from all other shark species is that it doesn’t actually hunt down prey. There are a couple of reasons for this. Probably the most obvious it that the Goblin Shark is in actual fact a slow, clumsy and lazy animal.
Blame it on the way it looks as there is very likely few other underwater creatures that don’t find the Goblin Shark scary. That means there are not going to be a lot of visitors to the average Goblin den.
So, that is why the Goblin Shark has developed other means of capturing prey without actually preying on it. Did you catch that part? So, with the odd unknowing fish or crab wandering anywhere near the Goblin Shark, it will very likely end up being a snack.
If the unsuspecting meal isn’t sucked into the mouth of the shark, the jaws snapping shut on the prey will do the trick. The teeth are flat and sharp but since there are hundreds of them, getting caught up somewhere between rows 25 and 28 ensures there will be no escape.
Goblin Shark Diet
The Goblin Shark diet is just about as much of a mystery of the creature itself. That’s because recorded data includes stomach contents of just seven species from four different countries. In fact, closer examination of the stomach contents of these Goblin Sharks reveals little, if any kind of pattern. Here is a breakdown based on locations of the animals:
The Japanese Goblin Sharks had mostly half-digested fish parts in their stomachs. These parts were identified as vertebrae, fin rays and muscle chunks. One specimen had crab remains which gave some proof to the belief that the Goblin Sharks tend to spend time on the ocean floor.
One specimen had a possible teleost swim bladder in the stomach contents. It was a central lumen structure with part of an elongated silvery form.
The small Goblin Shark specimen examined from waters near this country has stomach contents that were dominated by deep-water rock fish, octopus and crabs.
A single, unidentifiable eye lens was found in the stomach contents of a small specimen taken from this region.
Generally speaking, there is not enough evidence to determine any further details related to the feeding habits of the Goblin Shark. Garbage has also been identified in the stomach contents which only means the shark can hunt for food in shallow or deep water.
Goblin Shark Facts
Sharks are general known as an old species with the original ones having existed long before the time of dinosaurs. In fact, sharks are believed to have been around for the past 400-million years. Although original shark families are no longer around, most of the ones currently in existence can have their origins traced back around 200-million years. The youngest shark families date back to the relatively recent 30-million years.
The Name Game
Known by the scientific name of Mitsukurina owstoni, the Goblin Shark has a few more names. The actual “goblin shark” name comes from the Japanese word tenguzame which references a mythical creature with a long nose. In the United States, the shark is also known as the elfin shark. In Portugal the names demon shark and gnome shark are used.
Shocking Hunting Methods
Although there is little known about the Goblin Shark’s actual diet, it apparently used electricity to hunt. This is done with the aid of the long snout-like extension that is covered in tiny pores that respond to electrical fields in water. Sure, this is usually how sharks hunt but the Goblin has the advantage of a large nose that has even more sensors located throughout it.
The Safest Shark
The Goblin Shark is not hunted nor is it considered endangered in any way. If anything, the fact that the shark is basically a slow-moving, sluggish bottom dweller, it has little value to fishermen. Collectors are interested in the jaws, probably because of all the rows of teeth, but they are not likely going to disappear anytime soon. Plus, the only captures are of adults.
It Lives Forever
Okay, that is a bit of an exaggeration. However, the lifespan of the Goblin Shark is one more of the many mysteries that are connected to this freakishly weird underwater resident. Any kind of reference material with information on this creature usually has a single word description under the heading of Lifespan. That single word happens to be ‘unknown.’
The word weird doesn’t quite capture what the Goblin Shark is. Even the word freakish doesn’t quite come close enough. The Goblin Shark is a highly unusual member of the shark family. You could reference it as being the ‘black sheep’ of the family as it is unlike any other shark species. It has evolved over millions of years to be fully adaptable for its extremely deep living quarters. It has far more teeth than it probably needs, and the power to suck nearby prey into its body.
It also happens to be a shark that is nowhere near being endangered. Although the jaws and livers of this creature have value to collectors. Since few Goblin Sharks are ever caught, and the ones that are happen to be caught purely by accident, it is highly unlikely that major fishing tournaments will suddenly switch to include the Goblin Shark as a trophy item. Seriously, take a good look at what one looks like. Would you want something that strange hanging over your fireplace?
They also don’t do very well in captivity. Any Goblin Sharks that have been captured and placed in aquariums for further study lived only a few days. You could say they were homesick for the extremely cold, dark and deep waters they have become accustomed to or, maybe that’s part of their design. The only way to remain largely mysterious to man is to be hard to catch and keep long enough for much in the way of additional study.
The Goblin Shark is truly one of the most interesting mysteries of the world. Sometimes it is best to leave mysteries alone and just accept the fact that they exist to keep us curious about the world around us. The Goblin Shark is most certainly an example of one such mystery that may never truly be solved in our lifetime. And, you know what? We’re okay with that. The Goblin Shark was placed in the depths for a reason. Maybe we should just leave it be and let it live on for a few more million years.