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The Greenland Shark
( Somniosus microcephalus)
FIN tastic Facts:
*Using radiocarbon dating Scientists analyzed the lens nuclei of 28 female Greenland sharks and found an estimated life span of at least 272 years, making them the longest living vertebrate animal alive today! (Nielsen, 2016)
*Most Greenland sharks are almost blind due to cornea damage caused by a 5 cm long parasitic copepod (Ommatokoita elongata), which permanently attaches itself to the eye.
Key Features: These slow moving giants ( 2nd largest predatory shark) reach an average length of 2.5m to 4.5m (8′ to 15′) and can weigh up to 1,200kg (2,645 lbs). The two dorsal fins are small and spineless and they lack an anal fin. The first dorsal fin is set far back on the body and the head is quite small compared to the body size. The skin can be grey, black, brown or a mix of all three. They are known to cruise at speeds of 1.1 kph ( 0.8 mph) with “bursts” of speed reaching 2.7 kph ( 1.7 mph).
Habitat: Greenland sharks are found primarily in the Arctic are 1 of only 2 species ( other is the Sleeper Shark) known to tolerate these frigid temperatures year round. They are commonly found around Greenland and Iceland, but have also been reported on the coasts of Canada, Portugal, France, Scotland and Scandinavia. Scientist Aaron MacNeil of the Australian Institute of Marine Science, in Townsville, Queensland, Australia believes they could potentially be anywhere that is deep enough and cold enough.
Food Source: It is believed that these sharks are primarily scavengers, feeding on fish, crustaceans, gastropods, birds and marine mammals. Stomach contents have also included moose, horse, polar bear and reindeer remains. In 2013, 2 men on Newfoundland saved a shark from “choking” on a moose hide.
Threats: From the 20th century to the 1960’s were targeted commercially for their liver oil. Fishermen in Greenland and Iceland caught up to 50,000 of these sharks annually. In Iceland, “Rotten or Putriefied” shark is still served. The flesh of the shark is toxic, so it must be processed in order to make safe for human consumption.
These sharks are listed as ‘near threatened’ on the IUCN Red List. Around Greenland they are currently caught as bycatch in halibut and shrimp fisheries ( trawl) and fish traps and gillnets.
Learn more about Greenland Shark scientist Julius Nielsen HERE
1. Greenland Shark and Elasmobranch Education and Research Group (GEERG)
2. IUCN RED LIST
3. Nielsen, J, et al. 2016. Eye lens radiocarbon reveals centuries of longevity in the Greenland shark (Somniosus microcephalus).Science. 353 (6300):702-704.
- Tagged: Artic Sharks, Deep Sea Sharks, Deep-Sea, Greenland sharks, Julius Nielsen, save sharks, Shark education, Shark Research, Shark science, Shark tagging, sharks