Rare Shark Netted in Gulf of Mexico

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  • Author: D.O. Gordon
  • Press: Shark Magazine
  • Date: Sunday, 18 May 2014

South of Key West Florida last week, a commercial fisherman found something unusual in his nets. Along with his haul of fish, a huge, unusual-looking sea creature with an odd, flat snout was among the royal red shrimp. He had caught strange animals before, but never anything like this.

The fisherman, Carl Moore, had no idea what he had caught, but he recognized that it must be something special and unusual. He photographed his catch and released it back into the sea, saving its life. It is his practice to return anything that’s alive and caught in his nets by mistake to the ocean. Only afterwards was the shark identified as a very rare deep-sea shark, the goblin shark or Mitsukurina owstoni. This is reportedly only the second goblin shark ever caught in the Gulf of Mexico.

Research biologists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) were contacted by Moore after he released his amazing catch. His photos led to the identification of the rare species. John Carlson, a researcher for NOAA, would have been very interested to examine the shark, but was ultimately glad that Moore released it alive and well back into the ocean. The shark was reported as 15-18 feet long and based on the photographs; Carlson believes it was a female.

Very little is known about the goblin shark because they are so rare and live in the deepest, darkest parts of the sea. Scientists don’t even know their life spans, their reproductive spans, or how big they can get when they reproduce. It is often called a “living fossil” because the species is believed to be around 125 million years old.

This particular shark was caught at the shallower end of its usual range. They are normally found at 2,000-3,000 feet or 610-914 meters deep. The depth of its habitat may be the explanation for the adaptations in the creature’s snout. Sharks normally have sensors in their heads that help them to pick up signals from any animals around them. The flat, long snout of the goblin shark would presumably extend the range for detecting prey, similar to the adapted snout of the hammerhead shark. Once prey is found, the goblin shark uses it’s long, thin, sharp teeth to impale and hold its catch. The teeth are shaped like needles to hold and trap prey rather than slice it up. This extended range of sensors is necessary for the shark to find food in the darkness of the deepest waters.

80% of goblin sharks are found near Japan. They have been spotted in the waters of Brazil, Colombia, and other areas, but the first reported sighting in the Gulf of Mexico was in 2000. Prior to that, no reports of the sharks had been made in the North Atlantic since the 1970s.

Moore certainly has a great “fish story” to tell, even though this shark has been called ugly, alien, and hideous on websites and in publications. And Moore can thank his grandson for the pictures to go with his story. He only recently started to bring a camera on his boat so that he can show the three-year-old pictures of what he sees.

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