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Massive Goblin Shark Pregnant with 9 Pups Caught Off Coast of Taiwan
It's like the Russian nesting doll of fish.
Forty-eight years ago this week, audiences were terrified and delighted by Steven Spielberg’s Jaws. If that movie taught us anything, it’s that there’s nothing more frightening in the oceans than a great white shark, but Jaws was wrong. If you thought white sharks were scary, wait until you get a load of this monstrous goblin shark caught off the northeast coast of Taiwan.
Goblin sharks are bottom dwellers, patrolling the seafloor for unsuspecting squid and fish to make snacks of. Most sharks have mouths which seamlessly blend into their streamlined bodies, but goblin sharks took another tactic. Their mouths are great gargantuan things which appear almost tacked onto their otherwise sleek bodies almost as an afterthought. In the darkness of the abyss, however, there is no one to make fun of a toothy grin, and their weird jaws come in handy.
When a goblin shark is ready to attack, its jaw shoots out of its mouth connected to a series of flexible skin flaps, giving it a ranged attack. The jaw, lined with barbed wire teeth, launches forward like a thrown beartrap, capturing whatever is unfortunate enough to be in its path.
Goblin sharks are weird, in part because they are the only living members of the Mitsukurinidae shark family, an ancient group of sharks which emerged 125 million years ago, during the Cretaceous. Despite their long tenure on our planet, we don’t know much about them because we don’t encounter them very often.
Fishermen Catch a Pregnant Goblin Shark
The shark was captured accidentally by a group of fishermen bottom trawling in the waters near Taiwan. While bottom trawling is illegal in many places, precisely because it often results in unintentional captures, it isn’t forbidden in this part of the world.
Bottom trawling involves dragging a weighted net across the seafloor, sweeping up anything and everything in its path. It is indiscriminate in what it captures and is estimated to be responsible for roughly 60% of ocean organisms discarded by fisheries, amounting to 636 million tons every year.
Once the shark was pulled ashore, the fishermen originally planned to sell it to a restaurant, but a second bidder entered the fight and ultimately won. The shark is now housed at the Taiwan Ocean Artistic Museum where it will be preserved and displayed as part of a marine education exhibit. Part of what made the shark so appealing to the museum was its swollen belly, a clear indication that it was pregnant. Because we know so little about the species, an opportunity to investigate a pregnant shark and its offspring is of considerable scientific interest. It’s also the largest goblin shark ever caught in the area, weighing in at 800 kilograms (1,760 pounds).
Prior reports indicate that six pups were removed from the body of the shark, but that number has risen. Like an anti-mogwai, you pull a goblin shark out of the water, and they just keep multiplying. “It’s a total of 9 pups. [Three more were] discovered later. One of the fish merchants returned three more pups,” the Taiwan Ocean Artistic Museum told SYFY WIRE.
Based on initial measurements, the pups weighed about 3.5 kilograms, had teeth, and appeared nearly ready to be born, at the time of death. They are being preserved for scientific research and for display, according to comments on the museum’s Facebook page.