Goblin Shark

When you hear a name like Goblin Shark, you would expect to see a bad move, and indeed, there is one. Malibu Shark Attack, starring the original TV Nikita, Peta Wilson, is your typical Scy-Fy shark movie. The villain is the prehistoric goblin shark that is brought into shallow water by a tsunami that floods a coastal area stranding our intrepid band of people who fight and die in various bloody attacks.

The difference between this and Sharktopus, MegaShark, Sand Sharks and others is that the goblin shark actually exists, and it’s as ugly as portrayed in the movie.

Photo from the Florida Museum of Natural History

The goblin shark, Mitsukurina owstoni, although it has been found in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans has rarely been caught, and is considered to be quite rare. and unlikely to be encountered by the average beach junkie.

The goblin shark is a bottom-dwelling shark that is rarely seen at the surface or in shallow coastal waters. This species is found along the outer continental shelves, upper slopes, and off seamounts. Most specimens have been observed near continental slopes between 885 feet (270m) and 3149 feet (960m) deep. It has been found in waters up to 4265 feet (1,300m) deep and in waters as shallow as 311 feet (95m) to 449 feet (137m).

The average size of those few seen is about 1.6m (5 ft) with largest at 3.8m (12 ft).  Goblins are a member of the order Lamnidae and as such are probably oviparous (birth live young), although no pregnant females have been seen by biologists (only 25 specimens have been described in the scientific literature) so no details are available. They are more well known to deep trawling fishermen from Japan and Portugal.

Because the animal lives at such a great depth, rather than vision, it probably utilizes ampullae of Lorenzini as many other sharks, rays and  chimaeras do.

The ampullae of Lorenzini are special sensing organs called electroreceptors, forming a network of jelly-filled pores.Each ampulla consists of a jelly-filled canal opening to the surface by a pore in the skin and ending blindly in a cluster of small pockets full of special jelly. The ampullae are mostly clustered into groups inside the body, each cluster having ampullae connecting with different parts of the skin, but preserving a left-right symmetry. The canal lengths vary from animal to animal, but the distribution of the pores is generally specific to each species. The ampullae pores are plainly visible as dark spots in the skin. They provide fish with a sixth sense capable of detecting electromagnetic fields as well as temperature gradients.

The shark has two very unique features, the protrusion on the snout containing many of these ampullae of Lorenzini and the jaws which extend to capture prey.

Most dramatic, of course, are its highly protrusive jaws packed with needle-like teeth meant to trap, not slice. Sharks are able to project their mouths in this manner because the jaw is suspended by ligaments and cartilage instead of being fused to the skull. And the goblin shark takes this to the extreme with a jaw that pretty much looks like it’s trying to escape from the animal’s face.

“This arrangement allows the entire upper jaw to be dropped and then protruded forward during a bite,” said Clinton Duffy, a conservation biologist with the New Zealand Department of Conservation, in an email interview with WIRED. When the jaw is fired, we’re actually seeing the relaxation of the ligaments, which are then stretched again to bring it all back.

“Goblin sharks have a very large mouth relative to their size,” added Duffy, and the skin and muscles that comprise it are very loose, “allowing it to expand considerably when the mouth is opened and the jaws protruded.” The rapid expansion “probably creates a vacuum that sucks prey into the shark’s mouth.” (See the first footage of the goblin feeding in the Shark Week video below.)

Aiding this vacuum effect is the goblin shark’s highly developed, highly mobile basihyal — a structure analogous to a tongue, except made out of cartilage.

Here’s a video of the Goblin shark in action:

And here’s the trailer for Malibu Shark Attack.

“They say that life is strange, but compared with what?” – Steve Forbert.

Hat tip Absurd Creature of the Week Wired Magazine.

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