Dianne Bray / Museum Victoria / Wikimedia Commons

What even is the goblin shark?

The goblin is the ugly cousin of the shark species.

Quick Notes:

  • They may be ugly, but their looks aid in their survival.

  • The jaw of the Goblin shark is its most prominent feature.

  • The evolutionary adaptations of the Goblin shark have secured their centuries-long existence.

There are over 400 species of shark known to man, and with the continued discovery of new types, that number only seems to grow. Among those 400 species is one of the ugliest fish eyes have ever been laid on. That fish is the rare goblin shark.

Discovered by Japanese fishermen in 1898, the fish was originally called “tengu-zame” after a mythical goblin creature: a well-suited name for the animal that looks like a real-life deep sea Goblin. Spending its whole life roaming around the sea from depths of 130 to 4,265 feet, how they feed has long been a mystery.

Looks are not deceiving when it comes to the goblin shark.

Some of the names given to wild creatures fit so perfectly, it’s hard to imagine them being called anything else. The goblin shark is one of those perfect fits. It has a flabby muscular body and its thin, sheath-like skin lacks both collagen and pigment, giving it a transparent look. The elongated snout is one of its most visually pronounced features and is probably used to sniff out its prey.

Natural History Museum Vienna / Wikimedia Commons

The most notable feature of this shark, however, is its quick jaws. They are completely retractable, and when the shark goes in for the kill, they spring out of its jaw like a slingshot, capturing their breakfast at a speed of 3.1 meters per second. The prey is in its mouth before it even has the chance to notice what’s happening.

It’s nothing like its ferocious cousins

The goblin shark may not give the great white or hammerhead a run for its money when it comes to speed, agility or even looks, but that doesn’t mean that this weird shark isn’t without its own merit.

Sharks jaws aren’t fused to the skull like what is seen throughout a lot of nature. They are connected by a series of ligaments and cartilage that suspend from their jaw so that when they have to open wide, they have the capability to do so. The goblin shark, however, takes this to a whole new.

The four steps of capturing prey, as told by the goblin shark

First, the shark rests. Since it is a slow swimmer and lives in an area of the sea that doesn’t provide as much sustenance as other parts of the ocean, it needs to conserve its energy whenever it can.

When prey is spotted, the shark then prepares to chow down by opening its impressive jaw as wide as it can. It’s sometimes so wide that the shark’s eyes bang around inside its eye sockets.

Once the shark has its mouth open, it sends its set of 50 teeth flying out of its mouth ready to capture the unsuspecting fish they’ve set their sights on. In mere seconds, the prey is trapped and the jaw is back in the goblin sharks mouth, ready to be eaten. They have rows of anterior teeth designed to keep food hostage, not slice it into little pieces like many other species of shark.

A silly example of how it works

The best example of what its jaw acts like is a very large elastic band equipped with sewing needles. After they relax their jaws enough, their ligaments throw their mouths outside of their bodies like the extension and snap-back of an elastic band, and their prison-bar like teeth are the needles. This unique way of capturing other sea creatures “probably creates a vacuum that sucks prey” into its mouth.

The Goblin shark’s ability to pull this off is a combination of the way its jaw is put together and the elasticity of its grotesque looking skin. They have a basihyal, a cartilage-like body part in place of a tongue, that aids in the suction so they can capture all different types of meals.

Due to the lack of available food and the complete darkness these fish live in, the Goblin shark’s biology is a perfect example of evolutionary adaptation.

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