Goblin Shark Facts You Need to Know!

Goblin Shark (Mitsukurina owstoni) at Natural History Museum in Vienna. Image credit: Peter Halasz, cc2.5

Goblin Shark Facts You Need to Know!

Goblin Shark (Mitsukurina owstoni) at Natural History Museum in Vienna. Image credit: Peter Halasz, cc2.5

Most of the sharks we see in aquariums are magnificent creatures with smooth, bluish gray skin, pointed fins, rounded snouts and lean or stocky, well-proportioned bodies. Not all sharks, however, are easy on the eyes. The hammerhead shark, for example, has a weird-shaped head that makes you wonder how it can see. There’s also the megamouth shark with its massive mouth, the sawshark with its sword-like snout, the cookiecutter shark which looks like a sock puppet and the frilled shark, which looks more like an eel with a big head than a shark. There is another shark, however, that looks even weirder and uglier, you might even say it’s disfigured, making it fitting of its name – the goblin shark.

The goblin shark is the last of an ancient bloodline.

Goblin Shark (Mitsukurina owstoni) at Natural History Museum in Vienna. Image credit: Peter Halasz, cc2.5

The goblin shark is considered a living fossil. It is the last living member of the family of sharks known as Mitsukurinidae, which has been around for more than a hundred million years, even before the dinosaurs appeared. Sharks, in general, are an old species, having come to exist roughly 400 million years ago. None of the original families remain, though, and most families today date back to 200 million years ago or later. Some shark families even evolved just recently, such as in the past 30 or 20 million years – still a long, long time.

It was first discovered off Japan in 1898.

Distribution map for Mitsukurina owstoni by Yzx, GFDL.

In 1898, a ship off the island of Yokohama, Japan, caught the first ever known goblin shark. The shipmaster, who was also a naturalist named Alan Owston, didn’t know what it was or what to do with it so he gave it to his friend, Dr. Kakichi Mitsuriki, a professor at the University of Tokyo. He, too, didn’t know what the shark was and so he turned it over to David Jordan, an American scientist who specialized in fishes. Jordan studied the fish and described it as a new species in a paper. He named it Mitsukurina owstoni in honor of the two men who had given the fish to him.

To this day, Mitsukurina owstoni is the scientific name of the goblin shark. As for the name ‘goblin shark’, this is a translation of the Japanese name tenguzame. Tengu refers to a long-nosed mythical creature in Japan while same stands for ‘shark’. In the United States, the goblin shark is also known as the elfin shark while in Portuguese, it is known as the demon shark or the gnome shark.

Although it is mostly found off the bays of Japan, the goblin shark can also be found in the waters of New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, France, Portugal, Brazil, Taiwan, Sri Lanka and off the coasts of southern California and Florida in the United States.

Goblin sharks can grow over 10 feet long.

Goblin shark (Mitsukurina owstoni) scaled with a human. Image credit: Kurzon, cc3.0

Goblin sharks are large sharks. They might not get as large as great white sharks but they can still grow bigger than people. Male goblin sharks can grow from 8.6 to 10.5 feet long while the females can reach 12.6 feet long and weigh over 450 pounds.

Goblin sharks live in the depths of the ocean.

Diagram showing the divisions of the worlds oceans by Chris huh, PD Image.

If goblin sharks have been around for such a long time, why do we rarely see them and know little about them? This is because even though the goblin shark lives in many parts of the world, they live in the depths of the ocean, from 300 feet deep to as deep as over 4,000 feet. And they stay near the ocean floor, too.

At such depths, it is not only very cold and very dark, making it difficult to find food, but the pressure is also very high. How does the goblin shark survive? It has soft, flabby skin, unlike other sharks, which is more flexible and more resistant to pressure. Its skin is pink, too. Well, not exactly. Its skin is actually transparent, making its reddish blood vessels show. It has no need for the blue and white countershading other sharks have, after all, which cannot be seen in the dark.

Also, the goblin shark has a large, oily liver which allows it to float naturally as it moves along the ocean floor. When it does swim, it swims slowly, preserving its precious energy.

The goblin shark has an extendable jaw.

Head of a goblin shark (Mitsukurina owstoni) with jaws extended. Image credit: Dianne Bray / Museum Victoria, cc3.0 Australia.

The goblin shark’s mouth is one of its adaptations to surviving in the deep. Instead of chasing after prey, which can take up a lot of energy, the goblin shark hunts by ambush, extending its jaw up to the size of its snout when catching prey. This not only makes the mouth of the shark bigger but also creates a vacuum, sucking in water and prey.

The mouth of the goblin shark is filled with a lot of teeth. Those near the front are narrow and sharp, designed to grasp slippery fish while those at the back are flat and made for crushing hard shells.

Goblin sharks eat mostly fishes that dwell near the ocean floor, as well as squids, octopuses, crabs and shrimp.

Goblin sharks hunt using electricity.

Example of electroreceptors in a sharks head, including Ampullae of Lorenzini and Lateral Line canals. By Chris_huh image

Why does the goblin shark have a large nose? Scientists are not entirely sure why but they did discover this – that the nose of the goblin shark is covered in tiny pores that can detect electric fields in the water, called the ampullae of Lorenzini. Now, most sharks have this, but since the goblin shark has a large nose, it has even more of these sensors so it is able to detect even the slightest electric current. Using this ‘sixth sense’, the goblin shark navigates through the darkness straight to where the food is and gobbles up its next meal.

In addition, goblin sharks have been discovered to have hair cells which are sensitive to the vibrations in the water, also helping them detect prey.

The goblin shark is not believed to be endangered.

Although rarely seen, the goblin shark is classified as a species of Least Concern, which means that currently, it is in no danger of going extinct. While its jaws are sought after by collectors and its liver is valuable, it isn’t really hunted and is mostly a bycatch. Being a sluggish deep-sea creature, it isn’t hunted for sport, either, and it does not do well in captivity (not that it would look good in an aquarium).

Since mostly adults have been caught, it is assumed that the goblin shark nurseries are in places that are not fished, and so the goblin shark is believed to have a healthy population. Who knows? They might yet be around for a hundred more million years just lurking in the dark depths of the ocean where they pose no threat to humans, unlike their relatives.


The rest of the goblin shark remains a mystery…

As for how goblin sharks reproduce, their lifespan and their other habits, all these remain a mystery. Maybe as more specimens are caught, the answers to the questions of scientists will be answered but for now, the goblin shark is a mysterious animal like many creatures of the deep, strange-looking perhaps, but amazing just the same.

Goblin Sharks are featured in the following books:
Sharks Early Readers
25 most Awesome Sharks
The Daily Shark
25 Strangest Animals in the World!

The YouTube video below contains a playlist of videos about Goblin Sharks. The list of videos featured is underneath.

The Playlist:

    1. Goblin Shark by funfishflirt – Rare footage of goblin shark from Japanese aquarium.
    2. ANCIENT GOBLIN SHARK with Alien-like Hidden Jaw/Mouth by AnimalsAllAround101 – Awesome footage of the goblin shark’s remarkable jaw.
    3. Mechanism CG of goblin shark by SV650SSV650S – Unfortunately this is all in Japanese but it has some top quality footage as well as a close look at the jaw of the goblin shark.

More Shark Video Pages to Enjoy:
Tiger Sharks, Bull Sharks, Hammerhead, Mako, Great White, Megamouth, Goblin Sharks, Shark Senses, Sharks and Humans, Tonic Immobility, Whale Sharks, Lanternshark, Megalodon, Cookiecutter, Frilled Sharks, Spiny Dogfish, Basking Sharks, Angel Shark, Horn Sharks, Wobbegong, Zebra Shark, Blue Sharks, Nurse Sharks, Reef Sharks, Sand Tiger Shark, Oceanic Whitetip.



To view the complete list of sources, click here…



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