A commercial fishing boat bottom trawling off the coast of Taiwan recently netted a rare and unusual catch: A seldom-seen, deep-sea-dwelling goblin shark. Measuring 15 feet, 5 inches long and weighing 1,763 pounds, the female specimen is thought to be the largest of its kind ever hauled out of Taiwanese waters.
Goblin sharks are the only living species of a family of sharks called Mitsukurinadae, whose lineage dates back 125 million years. Known as tenguzame in Japanese, they are named for a mythical goblin called tengu that appears in Japanese folklore. Like their namesake, the sharks have long noses and red faces. Unusually flexible jaws lined with snaggled, needle-like teeth add to their ghoulish appearance. When stalking prey, the slow-moving predator makes up for its normally sluggish pace by whipping its jaws out to nab fleeing squid and fish. A goblin shark’s jaws thrust forward at more than 10 feet per second and can extend its body length by 9 percent—meaning the 15-footer was able to lash out nearly 17 inches to seize its prey.
According to a June 13 Facebook post from the Taiwan Ocean Artistic Museum, the shark was about to be sold to a restaurant until the museum got involved in the bidding. “After the Taiwan Marine Art Museum fought for it,” the post says, “the quite rare living fossil” was added to the museum’s collection and is expected to be the centerpiece of an educational exhibit in the future.
Because they spend their lives in water as deep as 4,000 feet along continental shelves, goblin sharks are a rare catch for anglers and are largely understudied by science. Adding to the jaw-dropping nature of the most recent catch was the discovery of half a dozen pups inside the female shark. The pups had already developed a full set of sharp teeth, which has led scientists to speculate that they were nearly ready to be born.