Goblin Shark’s Terrifying Teeth: The Spiky Jaws of Ocean Nightmare

Meet the goblin shark, a living relic of prehistoric times, whose appearance has earned it the title of the “Vampire of the Deep.” With its elongated snout and protruding jaws, the goblin shark stands as one of the ugliest fish in the depths of our oceans. Let’s delve into the depths of this extraordinary species, and prepare to be captivated and perhaps unnerved by weird facts about this species.

Goblin shark
Scientific name: Mitsukurina owstoni
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Chondrichthyes
Order: Lamniformes
Family: Mitsukurinidae
Genus: Mitsukurina

1. They have a creepy look

The elusive goblin shark, an extraordinary denizen of the deep sea, was discovered in 1898 in the waters of Japan. It stands as the sole living member of the Mitsukurinidae lineage, which traces its roots back to the late-Mesozoic period, a staggering 125 million years ago. The family’s ancient origins are evidenced by the discovery of fossils, the oldest ones dating back to the middle Eocene around 49-37 million years ago. Among these ancient remnants, two distinct fossil species have been identified: Mitsukurina lineata and Mitsukurina maslinensis.

What makes the goblin shark truly distinctive is its appearance. Unlike most sharks, they exhibit a unique color palette, varying from a pinkish-gray hue to a striking bubblegum pink shade. The origin of this pink hue lies in its translucent dermis, enabling us to have a glimpse of the oxygenated blood coursing through the capillaries.

The real goblin shark has a long snout

This pink pigmentation plays a crucial role in the shark’s survival, acting as a form of camouflage in the deep ocean waters. In these mysterious depths, where red appears as dark as night, the shark effortlessly blends into its surroundings, stealthily approaching its unsuspecting prey or protecting itself from predators. However, upon its demise, the pinkish glow fades, giving way to a more conventional dull brown or gray hue.

One of their highlighted characteristics is their elongated and flattened snouts, which gracefully protrude like blades. Alongside these snouts, they possess long, slender, razor-sharp teeth that connect to delicate and flexible jaws. What sets their snouts apart is the presence of electro-sensitive ampullae of Lorenzini, minute receptors enabling them to detect electric fields.

The goblin shark underwater at high depth

These sharks have a size of about 5 feet (1.6 m) in length, with the biggest goblin reaching about 12.6 feet (3.8 m).

In spite of their prominent snouts, these sharks exhibit flabby bodies covered in delicate skin. Their eyes are small and their myotomes are not well-developed. In contrast to their shark counterparts, these creatures boast short and rounded fins, featuring notably larger pectoral and anal fins in comparison to the dorsal ones. Notably, their caudal fin exhibits a heterocercal shape, wherein the upper lobe outstrips the lower one, a distinctive trait commonly observed in fish with more ancient evolutionary lineages.

Interesting fact:
The moniker “goblin shark” is derived from the shark’s Japanese appellation, “tengu-zame,” which refers to a legendary creature named Tengu. This character is renowned for its crimson complexion and elongated snout. Besides this common name, the shark also comes in different monikers due to their weird features, such as “vampire shark,” “tiburon duende,” “elfin shark,” and “requin lutin.”

2. Goblin shark Habitat

Goblin Sharks exhibit a broad distribution, spanning all three major oceans and occupying diverse regions. Most of them have been sighted near the coasts of Japan, with additional being found in other locations, such as New Zealand, Southern Africa, Suriname, Portugal, the Gulf of Mexico, Brazil, the eastern region of Senegal, Guiana, and France.

These scary creatures like to live in the mid-water habitat, at different depths, spanning from 130 to 3,150 feet (40 m to 960 m). In some exceptional cases, they have even been encountered at depths surpassing 1,300 meters.

The younger ones of this species tend to inhabit shallower waters, typically ranging from 100 to 350 meters, occasionally exploring areas that are less than 40 meters deep. On the other hand, their older counterparts are commonly found at greater depths.

Fun fact:
Goblin sharks have served as a muse for various cinematic creatures, like the formidable Kaiju Knifehead featured in Pacific Rim or the eerie, white-skinned “neomorph” in the sci-fi classic Alien.

3. They’re formidable hunters

Distinguished by their unique feeding behavior, goblin sharks stand out among their shark counterparts. These enigmatic creatures primarily eat teleost fish, including dragonfish, anglerfish, and rattails, while also relishing crustaceans such as crabs, prawns, crayfish, shrimp, and savoring cephalopods like squid and octopuses.

These sharks scour for sustenance both in the depths of the sea and near its surface. Among their favored targets is the blackbelly rosefish, a species frequently encountered in the very regions these sharks inhabit.

The goblin shark’s feeding behavior stands out due to the way they eat with their jaw structure. Unlike any other, these sharks possess a remarkably extendable jaw, capable of reaching nearly the full length of their elongated snout. This unique adaptation forms a parabolic shape, propelling the jaw forward like a catapult to catch the prey.

Goblin shark eating gif

With their specialized ampullae of Lorenzini located on their snouts and small eyes, these creatures possess an exceptional ability to detect their prey. These species are not good at swimming, that’s why chasing prey to eat is not their strength.

To hunt food, they likely rely on ambush tactics with slingshot feeding mechanism. The sharks have a sizable oily liver and flesh being low-density, giving them neutral buoyancy. This characteristic enables them to approach their prey stealthily without making significant movements to be noticed. While moving, they keep their mouth slightly open.

As soon as the prey comes close, goblin sharks swiftly open their mouth widely up to 111o and unleash their formidable jaws, catching their prey in the blink of an eye at an astonishing speed of 3.1 meters per second. Surpassing all other shark species, they have the fastest bite in the ocean, even swifter than the strikes of most cobras! When fully extended, the shark’s jaws can make up a remarkable 9.4 percent of its full body length.

Their mouth is full of teeth, with approximately 34 to 53 teeth in the upper jaw and 31 to 62 teeth in the lower jaw. These teeth are impressively recurved, curving sharply towards the back of their mouths. Consequently, any prey propelled forward becomes ensnared and impaled on these formidable dental spears.

After consuming the prey, they retract their jaws and back to the normal posture, with their mouth slightly opened.

Thanks to their habitat, goblin sharks don’t have many natural predators, with the blue shark being their primary threat in the wild. Nevertheless, human activity poses a more significant danger to them, as they frequently fall victim to capture and exhibition in museums.

4. They’re lazy sharks

The mesmerizing goblin shark remains an enigmatic marvel, seldom encountered owing to its elusive nature. This solitary being finds solace in the deep ocean, distancing itself from human presence, fishing gear, and environmental contamination. This is why it’s very hard to see them.

These prehistoric sharks have a lazy and inactive life with nocturnal behavior. They just become lively only when the night falls while maintaining sluggish during the day. Their slow pace has left them with feeble muscles, delicate fins, and diminished calcium in their skeletons.

Contrary to their menacing appearance, goblin sharks are not aggressive or dangerous to humans. Not a single report exists of them eating or attacking humans. Unfortunately, they cannot be kept in captivity, surviving merely a few days to a week under such conditions. Clearly, they need their natural habitat to survive.

5. Reproduction

The Goblin Shark remains a rare and elusive animal, seldom encountered in the wild. While our understanding of their reproductive habits pales in comparison to better-studied shark species, scientists postulate that they likely follow the reproductive patterns observed in other shark species.

Goblin shark has a creep face

Throughout the breeding season, they engage in internal fertilization. Being viviparous creatures, females nurture the growing embryos within their bodies. During gestation, the developing embryos exhibit a unique behavior known as oophagy, where they consume underdeveloped eggs to support their own growth. Eventually, females give birth to a small number of offspring. These young exhibit a natural hunting instinct and become active predators right away.

The sexual maturity and lifespan of female goblin sharks remains a mystery. Males usually attain this stage when they reach approximately 8.5 feet in length or around 16 years of age. They can live up to 60 years.

6. Conservation status

Encountering goblin sharks in the wild is quite rare. In the past 125 years since they were first discovered, only a small handful of goblin sharks, fewer than 50 to be precise, have been documented.

Although, on occasion, they end up being unintentionally caught in fishing nets during commercial operations in Japan. These creatures, mostly young individuals, have the misfortune of getting entangled in fishnets, leading them to be processed and eventually finding their way to markets. However, the instances of bycatch remain relatively infrequent, with approximately 30 individuals each year, particularly in the waters off southern Japan.

Besides, these species are eagerly sought for their distinctive snout and jaws. These collectors even pay a high price to have these features.

Despite all of these, the species are not considered endangered or extinct. In fact, they hold a reassuring status of “Least Concerned” according to the IUCN. This fortunate position can be attributed, in part, to their habitat preference for bottom-dwelling areas. By residing in such environments, they minimize their exposure to human activities that might pose a risk to their survival.



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We are passionate animal enthusiasts with over a decade of experience studying animals. With a degree in zoology and conservation biology, we've contributed to various research and conservation projects. We're excited to bring you engaging content that highlights the wonders of the animal kingdom. We aim to inspire others to appreciate and protect wildlife through informative content grounded in expertise and passion. Join us as we delve into the captivating world of animals and discover the incredible stories they have to tell.

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