Luckily for you, you’re not a fish swimming under the depths of the oceans. Because, honestly, forget everything you saw from Jaws and The Meg. There’s a new deep-ocean baddie, and it’ll make you feel like the movies aren’t as scary as you thought they were. Enter, the Goblin Shark. Judging by the name, you must have a mental image in your head of how it looks (not saying you’re not looking at the picture above), and yes, it is scary.
The very secretive fish was first found off the eastern coast of Japan. In 1898, it was first described to have a long snout and an almost flesh-like skin tone. Because of that, the shark was given the name tenguzame––a Japanese reference to a mythical monster with a similarly long face, pink skin, and, coincidentally, fatal jaws. Now, the western side of the world refer to it as the ‘goblin shark.’
What does the Goblin Shark look like?
Goblin sharks (Mitsukurina owstoni) are very weird-looking creatures––almost sinister in that regard, in fact. Goblin sharks grow as long as almost 4 meters in length and have soft, flabby bodies with a pinkish color throughout its body. What makes it look like a goblin is its combination of a long, overhanging snout and big jaws holding its sharp teeth. The jaws aren’t just for the goblin show, however, as it rapidly extends to swallow its small prey whole. The goblin shark’s front teeth are sharp and can capture prey in a snap of a finger. The teeth in the back are responsible for crushing the prey. Compared to other sharks with teeth normally in rows, the goblin sharks’ are as weird as how they look.
To add to the list of uncommon shark features, goblin sharks miss nictitating eyelids––a very thin membrane found beneath the lower lid of their eyes that serves as their protection. These eyelids are commonly found in most sharks. Their anal fins are large and broad.
The smallest found goblin shark came just over a meter long. The whole population of goblin sharks averages around almost 2 meters in length with females growing the largest. It’s been reported, however, that a small goblin shark has been found on land… in the form of a plushie! Gage Beasley’s Goblin Shark Soft Stuffed Plush Toy has adapted the deep ocean nightmare as a dream come true. Now, you can see their jaws up close and personal with their insanely sharp teeth. One bite from that can sharpen your pencil at its maximum point.
Gage Beasley’s Goblin Shark Soft Stuffed Plush Toy
From the nightmare of the sea to your dream bedside partner, this monster can be all yours to hug throughout the night. If anyone you know loves goblins and sharks (weirdly acceptable hobbies, I guess), then you might just have the perfect gift for them.
How does the Goblin Shark eat?
Goblin sharks’ teeth aren’t as big as their other shark relatives (measuring at 1cm), but they are pretty sharp. This allows them to feed on small and soft-bodied fish and invertebrates. Since their existence was discovered, photos and videos have circulated in all forms of media showing how amazing their jaws are when working. The goblin sharks are known for their use of ampullae of Lorenzini, special sensing organs called electroreceptors, on their long nose to find the electric fields of their prey. I bet that’s the first time you encountered some of those terms, huh? After that, when they’ve finally locked in on their prey, the goblin shark swims almost undetectably towards its victim, and when in range, their extendable jaws almost lunge out from their faces––swallowing and eventually devouring the prey.
When their jaws are extended, that’s when they look like their shark relatives. However, they all pose the same threat as sharks as the scary predators of the sea. Records of goblin sharks’ stomach contents have been known to include small fishes and cephalopods. Therefore, it was concluded that goblin sharks lurk in mid-water and possibly near the bottom of the ocean.
“When specimens of goblin sharks were first captured and recorded, their jaws were in the protruded position. Older textbooks illustrate the animals in this way,” says marine biologist Tom Hird.
“In the past 10 years or so, scientists studying live specimens at depth using submersibles have helped us establish exactly how the jaw thrusts forward when the sharks feed,” he continued.
How does the Goblin Shark reproduce?
Not much is known about the reproduction of goblin sharks. However, they are almost certainly ovoviviparous––production of young where the embryos feed on yolk sacs produced by the mother and are hatched within the body. Unfortunately, however, no pregnant specimen has ever been collected and, therefore, no data could be given for this specific matter.
Information on their sexual maturities is indicated through their lengths where males can reach theirs at 2 meters. As for females, no data has been gathered.
What are the Goblin Sharks’ Distribution and Conservation Status?
The goblin shark is usually commercially fished off Japan and sometimes taken as a bycatch of the oceans of Portugal. Anywhere else, they are taken primarily as bycatch of occasional deep-water longlines, gillnets, purse seines, but none greater than trawls.
Usually, goblin sharks are pretty harmless considering their diets of small fish and cephalopods. Though goblin sharks are probably common, they’re rarely seen and are very elusive species of sharks. With that, information on them is very limited. They have only been in scientific literature 45 times––most information coming from the oceans of Japan while the others have come from far across the world in southern Africa and New Zealand.
Certainly, these goblin sharks do have their ways of being mysterious. As mentioned before, they are not thought to be rare––but so few of them have been found and reasons why aren’t as abundant. In a sense, the goblin shark is an animal reeking of Hollywood exploitation. As for fishing exploitations, let’s just wish that it doesn’t follow its good old shark relatives in that regard.
Obviously, the goblin shark doesn’t boast as much information as you would’ve liked it to have. This incredibly hard-to-find (because they aren’t rare, per se) shark relative is also considered as a living fossil––yes, just like the coelacanth and the nautilus. In the fossil records, there are other extinct members of the goblin shark family which dates back some 125 million years. Aesthetically, they’re not the most pleasing to look at (unless you love weird things) compared to the jellyfishes and the seahorses, but they should be still be preserved after guarding the oceans for millions of years.
As mentioned before, goblin sharks have been involved as bycatch in numerous fishing techniques. Coming from the depths of the ocean, a sudden change in the temperature and loss of water could prove fatal to the goblin sharks. If anything, hopefully, once caught, they should be preserved and reported as soon as possible. Judging by how hard the goblin shark is to find, the only contribution we can really make is to support their research and try to decrease their challenges as a species.