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May 05, 2014

Rare Goblin Shark Caught off Key West, Florida

An estimated 15-foot goblin shark opens up new research to locate this nearly unknown species.

If sharks weren't scary enough, this one had to come along.

Carl Moore, a Georgia-based shrimp fisherman, pulled up a goblin shark south of Key West, Florida. He caught it on April 19, while trawling on a 18-day fishing trip.

“80 percent of these specimens have been caught off Japan, whereas this one was caught near the gulfstream south of Key West,” said John Carlson, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration research biologist. “We were very excited — we were jumping up and down after seeing the photos.”

Carlson said this is the second ever-caught goblin shark in the Gulf of Mexico. The first being in 2000, which was an 18-footer accidentally wrapped up in a crab fishery off the coast of Louisiana.  

The Key West-caught goblin shark estimated to be 15 feet. Carlson said this one was caught between 1,000 to 3,000 feet when the shrimp net was pulled back to the surface. He said that goblin sharks have been theorized as a mesopelagic (660 to 3300 feet) species and tend to feed on squid.

Goblin sharks have a noticeable, elongated snout. One might relate it to a billfish. Carlson suggests that this blade-like nose is not used in the same way sailfish use theirs for slashing prey.

“Sharks have a pores that are sensory organs located on the head called ampullae of Lorenzini,” Carlson said. “These pores are used to detect prey. The theory of a goblin shark’s snout, it was adapted to an increased radius to find prey in such darkness.”

The tail of a goblin shark is different from most sharks. Carlson said the goblin’s tail enables it to swim in a glide motion, unlike a mako’s half-moon shaped tail, which allows it to swim more rapidly.

This species is in a class of its own; for the most part found in the waters off Japan, Carlson said the goblin shark is all over the map.

According to the Florida Museum of Natural History, the goblin shark has been seen in Atlantic off the coast of Guyana, Surinam, French Guyana, France, Madeira, Senegal, Portugal, Gulf of Guinea, and South Africa. It has also been reported in the western pacific off Japan, Australia and New Zealand. In the Indian Ocean, it is found in South Africa and Mozambique. It was recently recorded off the coast of California as well as in the northern Gulf of Mexico south of Pascagoula, Mississippi.

Even though most goblin sharks have been caught by accident, Carlson said that this species would be hard to catch by regular fishing methods. 

“I doubt one could be caught by hook and line with these sharks swimming in the depths of 1,000 – 3,000 feet,” he said. “One would have to have the right gear. It’s not impossible.”

Cold, hard facts are hard to come by for this rare shark species, but Carlson and his colleague, William Driggers, are working on it.

“With the recently submitted photographs and researching old literature, we are writing a paper on goblin sharks to submit to a scientific journal,” he said. “We are trying to find a link with locations to find these goblin sharks, particularly near sea mounts.”