The rarely-seen goblin shark is one of the oldest fish in the sea, living in the deep darkness of its namesake
Sometimes described as a ‘living fossil’, the goblin shark (Mitsukurina owstoni ) spends its life patrolling the depths of the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic Ocean and has seen little evolutionary change in more than 125 million years.
The shark was first discovered at the end of the 19th century by Japanese fishermen near Yokohama, and was taken by Alan Owston, a British businessman and naturalist who lived in Japan at the time to Professor Kakichi Mitsukuri at the University of Tokyo. It was later named Mitsukurina owstoni in honour of the two men by American ichthyologist David Starr Jordan.
The sharks’ common name is taken from the Japanese word tenguzame, a creature of Japanese mythology similar to the goblins of European folklore.
As is often the case with deep-dwelling species, the goblin shark is slow-moving and to hunt out prey relies on electrical receptors known as ampullae of Lorenzini that are located on its snout. Its liver accounts for 25 per cent of its weight, a not uncommon size among sharks that feed infrequently, but curious in the case of the goblin shark, as it is a frequent feeder.
Goblin sharks can grow up to around 3m in length, although a specimen found in 2000 was reportedly measured at 6m in length, putting it on par with the more familiar great white shark.
M. owstoni is an ambush predator with a unique way of catching its prey – the shark’s giant liver allows it to float, neutrally buoyant, in the darkness enabling the shark’s strategy of drifting towards its prey and, once in range, thrusting its jaws forward while using a tongue-like muscle to suck up the unfortunate victim.