A mischievous looking fish known for its creepy look resembling Griphook of Harry Potter is the Goblin Shark. Certainly not the fastest of the sharks, neither much powerful nor the biggest, still the Goblin shark has succeeded in creating an aura of mystery around it.
It wasn’t until the beginning of the 19th century the existence of this shark was discovered by Shipmaster naturalist, Alan Owston and Professor Kakichi Mitsukuri of the University of Tokyo.
Since then, extensive studies have been happening on this species. The reason being biologists believe these Goblin sharks are the only extant representative of a species that lived almost 125 million years ago. It is for this reason Goblin Sharks are also known as “Living Fossils.”
Let’s dive in to know more about the Goblin Sharks.
1. What does a Goblin Shark Look like?
Those who have seen the Goblin shark would say they come in a disfigured and disabled shape. This bizarre-looking fish apparently earned its name “Goblin Shark” for its resemblance to goblins as portrayed in Hollywood movies. The flat & elongated snout with a large mouth full of long, slim teeth indeed makes it look like a goblin.
These sharks are known to be snaggle-toothed for the alignment and appearance of their teeth. These exceptionally long and sharp teeth are connected to the jaws that are extremely delicate and soft.
Because of its long, rubbery looking snout & teeth resembling fangs, the Goblin shark has earned the nicknames Elfin Shark, Tiburon Duende (Spanish for “hobgoblin shark”) and so on.
Though they belong to the shark family, they differ a lot from the sharks we are familiar with. Unlike the other members of the shark family, Goblin Sharks are flabby-looking, have small rounded fins and a tail. They also have a strong top lobe and lack the bottom lobe too.
When it comes to skin color, Goblin sharks show a huge difference from their close cousins. The other members of the shark family have colors ranging from grey, brownish-white, olive green, and similar shades. Unlike the other sharks, the Goblin Sharks shows color ranging from greyish pink to dark pink.
2. Why is the Goblin Shark Pink in Color?
Don’t get it wrong. There aren’t any pink pigments on a Goblin Shark. Their pink color does not come from a pigment; rather, it’s from the oxygenated blood running through their capillaries.
Capillaries are tiny blood vessels that carry oxygenated blood throughout the body of an organism. Goblin sharks have translucent skin, which means one can actually see the oxygenated blood in the capillaries giving it a pink color.
Did you know that you can actually see somewhat through the skin of a Goblin Shark! Quite bizarre, huh?
3. Did You Know That Its Pink Color Is Actually a Camouflage?
The Goblin sharks’ pink color is used as a camouflage. These sharks are most commonly seen in great depths or around 4000ft, and in such deep spaces where there is virtually no light, these sharks look black.
This helps it to blend in with its immediate environment. Since the Goblin sharks use stealth as its weapon while foraging for food, the camouflage color is truly a blessing for them that helps them virtually hide right before the eyes of its prey.
Their soft skin is protected by structures called dermal denticles.
4. What do Goblin Sharks eat?
Goblin sharks are creatures that are mainly found in deep ocean beds. Unlike the other members of the shark family, the Goblin sharks are not fast or powerful, so they mainly feed on prey that is slow and weak.
One of the intriguing thing seen in the digestive system of a Goblin shark which does not eat often is the presence of a large oily. Normally such oily livers are seen on Sharks that do not feed often. It is this oil in their liver that helps them survive in between their feeding.
They mostly feed on octopus, squids, rattail fishes, dragon fishes, crabs, lobsters, shrimps, prawns, and so on. From the food that was recovered from the stomach of captured Goblin sharks’ scientists could find midwater fishes that are not commonly seen in depths, which means Goblin Sharks forage, the depths of the ocean along with midwater level for a snack!
It can be summarized that Goblin sharks are opportunistic hunters that take prey to anything appropriate size and native to its immediate habitat.
5. How do Goblin Shark hunt?
Goblin Sharks are not good swimmers; rather, they are slow-moving creatures making them good at ambushing their prey. In order to ambush prey, stealth has to be their primary weapon. These sharks have an oily-liver, and their flesh is less dense, making them neutrally buoyant.
Being neutrally buoyant makes them capable of floating around without much movement when compared to other sharks. Less movement implies more stealth!
Once the float towards the prey and reaches a safe attacking range, their specialized jaws takes over the task. The Goblin sharks have specialized jaws that can rapidly protrude forward at great speeds. Having this specialized jaw enables them to make use of the element of surprise and capture the unsuspecting prey.
Similar to sand tiger sharks, the Goblin sharks have a peg-like arrangement of their teeth. Their teeth are, in fact, very long and slender, which helps them to grasp on to slimy preys and to swallow it.
6. Goblin Shark- A Jaw-Dropping Species
Yes, goblin sharks can extend their jaws. It is actually one of the features that makes it truly a magnificent creature. One can say that the extendable jaw was a natural adaptation to being slow.
In fact, the Goblin sharks can actually protrude their jaws 2 to 10 times than an average shark.
So how does it work?
There are two pairs of elastic ligaments in the mandibular joint (Jaw bone). These ligaments are pulled taut in its normal position (relaxed state). When the goblin shark goes foraging and finds it preys, it stealthily approaches it for an ambush.
When the shark bites, these ligaments release the tension suddenly, creating a catapult effect, and the jaw plunges forward.
The Goblin sharks have a well-developed part similar to a tongue called the “basihyal” in their mouth. When this shark bites a prey, the mouth opens, and the basihyal drops, creating an oral cavity that is used to suck in water and its prey.
Goblin sharks can open their mouth to a staggering angle of 111 degrees. This, along with the jaw that can elongate, enables it to capture and engulf prey that seems to be out of reach in the blink of an eye.
7. How big is a Goblin Sharks?
The Goblin sharks are generally found to grow up to 13 feet long and weigh up to 420 pounds.
Looking into the physical characteristics of the captured Goblin sharks, matured male Goblin sharks are found to be 8 to 13 feet long, whereas matured females were found to be 11-13 feet long. In general female sharks are found to be larger than males.
In the year 2000, a female Goblin Shark was caught off the coast of Japan, and it measures a staggering 20ft in length!
Another important thing to note is that Goblin sharks tend to shrink as they get older. Their long & flat snout will start to shrink with age!
8. Habitat of a Goblin Shark – Where do they live?
Goblin sharks are most commonly seen dwelling in the safe depth of oceans. They are most commonly found at depths varying between 890 to 3,150 feet below sea level (Upper part of the continental slope). In some cases, adults were found swimming at depths of 4300 feet.
Goblin sharks are also known as vampire sharks as they go so deep into the ocean beds where there is virtually no sunlight.
There was one such instance where the Goblin shark was found at a depth of 4490 feet when engineers found its tooth wedged into an underwater cable. Juvenile Goblin sharks are relatively seen in shallow waters, including underwater canyons.
Most of the captured Goblin sharks were found at depths of 200ft to 900ft off the shores of Japan. One sad fact about the Goblin sharks is that they clearly need their natural habitat at great depths to survive.
The Goblin sharks that were kept in captivity aquariums died within weeks, making it clear that they need their natural habitat at great depths.
9. The Incredible Snout of the Goblin Shark
The elongated snout of a Goblin shark creates a strange facial proportion. This elongated snout does serve an important purpose and is a vital organ for their survival.
Goblin sharks are found to have small eyes that aren’t powerful enough to see its prey. Considering the fact that they dwell in deep ocean floors, they obviously need something powerful enough to identify their prey.
This is where the elongated snout comes in to play. The snouts of Goblin sharks are lined with openings called “Ampullae of Lorenzini,” these openings function as an electrical sensor which it uses to catch its prey.
The Goblin shark sweeps its snout like a metal detector. The Ampullae of Lorenzini is capable of picking up even the tiniest of electrical impulses produced when the muscles move. Using this electrical impulse, sharks can easily identify and locate their prey.
10. Are Goblin Sharks Dangerous?
They are not as scary as they look. There has not been even one reported incident of an attack by a Goblin shark.
As discussed above, these sharks are mostly found at depths of 4000ft, which is far from what a human can reach (Without support). Which means they live far off from humans and hence are not a threat.
The only recorded instance of an attack from a Goblin shark was when it attacked a diver. Luckily for the diver, the shark was a playful juvenile who mistakenly took his swimming suit and fins to be a prey. Had it been an adult goblin shark, it could have done serious damage.
Another important fact is that they aren’t really good swimmers making it less of a threat and more vulnerable to attack by other sharks. In fact, the Goblin sharks are found to be prey to the other sharks, such as the blue sharks.
11. Are Goblin Sharks endangered?
No, Goblin sharks are not endangered. I would say Goblin sharks are uncommon than endangered. In fact, biologists have found Goblin sharks in the cost of Japan, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Surinam, Senegal, France, and Portugal and in the Gulf of Guinea.
Goblin sharks are pretty much safe from fishing, considering the depths at which they live in. The only time when they get caught in the fishermen’s net is while they forage for food in mid-water levels and get caught in the deep sea fishing nets.
Most population of the Goblin shark lives in areas that are beyond the reach of fishermen, and hence it is not believed to be threatened by human activities. It is for this reason the International Union for Conservation of Nature has categorized the Goblin sharks as the least concern.
12. How do Goblin Sharks reproduce?
When it comes to Goblin Sharks, they are still a mystery to biologists and marine scientists. Little is known about their reproduction and their reproductive organs. Scientists are yet to get their hands on a pregnant Goblin Shark, which will help us understand more about their reproductive cycle and behaviors.
From whatever the scientists have understood about them, their mode of reproduction is similar to other members of the shark family.
The male shark has a sex organ called “claspers,” which it uses to transfer sperms to the female shark in order to fertilize the egg. Goblin Sharks are ovoviviparous, which means that the embryos hatch inside their mother’s womb.
One of the interesting things about reproduction in Goblin sharks is that the embryos/offspring can spend up to 2 years inside the mother’s womb developing.
The offspring do not have a placental connection with the mother; rather, they feed upon the unfertilized egg inside the mother’s womb.
Some Goblin sharks are also found to lay eggs on the ocean bed other than giving birth to a live offspring.
13. Do Goblin Sharks have a good vision?
Goblin sharks are truly peculiar. When it comes to the vision, they commonly show multiple behaviors. Earlier it was believed that Goblin Sharks purely relied on the electroreceptors present in their long snouts to identify and locate their prey.
But in a recent study conducted on a female goblin shark that was captured off the New Zealand coast revealed some interesting facts. Biologists could find traces of bioluminescent creatures in the belly of this shark, suggesting that the Goblin sharks rely on their vision to catch prey that are seen in the mid-water levels.
Compared to the other members of the deep-sea shark family, Goblin sharks have a relatively functional iris that dilates, pointing to the fact that they do rely on their vision.
14. Do humans pose a threat to the Goblin Sharks?
Well, not really, considering the fact that Goblin sharks live in the deep waters, chances of them coming in direct contact with humans is less. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has included Goblin sharks in their low priority list.
There has been an instance where scientists found garbage inside the belly of a Goblin shark. You need to remember the fact that these sharks live in depths of 4000ft, and that’s their natural habitat. An unfortunate thing about Goblin sharks is that they are so dependent on their natural environment that even the slightest change can pose a potential threat to them.
The presence of garbage in such depths is really a matter of concern as this trend, if continued, can lead to a decline in their population.
In some parts of the world, Goblin meat is dried and salted and served as a delicacy. Apart from that, the jaw of the shark is a valuable collectors’ item people are willing to pay a bomb for.
Because these sharks are found deep chanced of them, being extensively caught is less. So yeah, in a way, humans do pose a threat to the Goblin Sharks.
15. Did You Know That Goblin Sharks Are Called Living Fossils?
When scientists first discovered a Goblin shark in the year 1898, they had a strange sense of Déjà vu. They felt that they had seen this creature somewhere before. Not in the ocean but in fossils.
The Goblin Shark had striking similarities to the shark fossils from the Scapanorhynchus species that lived almost 100 million years old. These species were considered long extinct, and discovering them felt as if they walked straight out of the grave.
This earned them the name “Living Fossils.”
16. What are the different genera of Goblin Sharks?
There are three genera of Goblin sharks:
- Scapanorhynchus sp
- Anomotodon sp
Among the three, only the Mitsukurina genera of Goblin Shark exists now, and the rest two have become extinct.
17. Are Goblin Sharks Good Swimmers?
Don’t be deceived by their terrorizing looks. Goblin Sharks are not good swimmers. Unlike the other members of the shark family, the body of Goblin sharks is not favorable to swimming fast or being swift.
Their fat and flabby morphology combined with small fins make swimming a difficult task for them.
Recent researches on these mystical creatures have revealed some interesting facts about their behavior and swimming. Goblin sharks are most commonly found in great depths, which means there is not going to be much to forage on.
The amount of nutrition they acquire from whatever they eat is not sufficient enough to supplement their big body.
It is for this reason Goblin sharks swim slowly through the waters and make use of their light color as stealth and the catapult jaw as a surprise weapon while the forage.
The liver of Goblin sharks is fatty, and the flesh is dense when compared to other sharks. These features make Goblin shark a semi buoyant fish that can effortlessly swim. For an aquatic organism that needs to conserve energy, being semi buoyant is going to help them a lot in survival.
The recorded top speed of a Goblin Shark is 20 kmph(15 miles per hour)! That’s quite low a speed for a shark.
Looking at these features and peculiarities, one can say that the jaw that can protrude out & the mouth that can be opened wide (up to 110 degrees) is an evolutionary adaptation of these species to compensate for their lack of agility.
18. How long do Goblin Sharks live?
In their natural habitats, Goblin sharks are found to have an average lifespan of 30 to 35 years. Unfortunately, they don’t do well inside a captive environment.
The longest period in which a Goblin shark survived in captivity is two weeks. This is, in fact, the main reason why we still don’t know a great deal about them.
19. How Many Species of Goblin Sharks Are There?
Scientists believe there are about 50 species of Goblin sharks out there in the ocean. Since these sharks are very difficult to find and to study, there is no confirmation on this.
Although Goblin sharks are rarely caught, based on the locations of the specimens caught, they appear to have a nearly global distribution.
The record for the highest number of Goblin Sharks caught at once stands at 103. This happened off the coast of Taiwan in the year 2003.
20. What Eats a Goblin Shark?
These are one of the many questions marine scientists and biologists are trying to find answers for. The depths at which these creatures live makes it virtually impossible to study them in their natural habitat.
Scientists of the Tokyo University has found remains of Goblin sharks’ inside other sharks such as the blue sharks. This is by far the only information the world knows about their predators.