A shrimp fisherman off the Florida Keys made a rare catch in his net recently, pulling up one of the world’s ugliest sea creatures and rarest species of shark.
In the net full of red shrimp was an 18-foot goblin shark, a bottom-dwelling shark rarely seen at the surface or in shallow coastal waters—and extremely rare to the Gulf of Mexico, so much so that the scientific community was abuzz with amazement over the catch.
NOAA Fisheries Service reported that it was only the second goblin shark of record in the Gulf of Mexico. The first was captured on July 25, 2000, by commercial fishermen in more than 3,000 feet of water.
The unusual by-catch was that of commercial fisherman Carl Moore, who had brought in his net from more than 2,000 feet of water, according to David Shiffman of Southern Fried Science.
“I didn’t even know what it was,” Moore told the Houston Chronicle via SFGate. “I didn’t get the tape measure out because that thing’s got some wicked teeth, they could do some damage.”
So Moore instead took photos of the beast, winched it over the side of the boat, and released the bizarre-looking fish, which swam away.
Scientists were grateful the prehistoric-looking goblin shark was released alive, but disappointed over not being able to examine it and learn more about it.
“We don’t even know how old they get, how fast they grow,” NOAA shark expert John Carlson told the Chronicle.
Carlson called the catch, which was actually made April 19 but not reported to NOAA until Thursday, great news.
“This is only the second confirmed sighting in the Gulf; the majority of specimens are found off Japan or in the Indian Ocean and around South Africa,” Carlson said.
Moore, who called the catch the highlight of his 50 years of shrimp fishing, said NOAA told him that “I’m probably one of the only 10 people who’ve seen one of these alive.”
Moore also offered one of the more humorous descriptions of the goblin shark to a NOAA scientist, saying, “It was uglier than a mother-in-law,” according to Shiffman, a graduate student in Florida studying shark conservation and a popular shark blogger.
According to the department of Ichthyology at the Florida Museum of Natural History, goblin sharks, also known as elfin sharks, are widely distributed globally, though few are caught because of their deep-water residence.
They are mostly found near continental slopes in 885 to 3,149 feet of water. They have been observed as deep as 4,265 feet and as shallow as 311 feet.
Goblin sharks are said to be the only living member of the Mitsukurinidae family, a lineage said to be 125 million years old.
Obviously they are distinct for their unusual head, with an elongated, flattened snout and protruding jaw with sharp rows of teeth.
“I love them because they’re pink, they’re mysterious, and they live deep among other cool creatures,” marine biologist Charlott Stenberg told Southern Fried Science. “I know many people think that they are ugly, but that just makes me love them more.”
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