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Goblin Shark Facts and Information:
Living Goblin Sharks and Their Fossil Ancestors: Including Where to find Fossil Goblin Shark Teeth




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Goblin Shark Image

Goblin Shark (Mitsukurina owstoni) at Natural History Museum in Vienna: Photo credit: Peter Halasz. (User:Pengo)


Fast Facts about the Goblin Sharks


Name: Common names include the "Goblin Shark" and the "Elfin Shark"

Taxonomy:
Order: Lamniformes Family: Mitsukurinidae Genus: Mitsukurina Species: owstoni

Age: Cretaceous to Recent

Discovery: 1898
David Starr Jordan was the first to scientifically describe a specimen in 1898. The specimen came from Japan.

Distribution: Global
This is a deep water fish, and live in waters over 300 feet deep.
Although rarely caught, they appear to have a nearly Global distribution.

Body Size:
11 feet Average. However, a large female was caught in 2000 that was around 18 feet in length.

Diet:
Probably small fish and crustaceans

Physical Appearance:
Very long tail, long snout, and jaws that can protrude out of the mouth.
Since it is a deep water animal, the eyes are small and nearly useless

Fun Fact:
The Goblin sharks jaw is on a hinge. It can swing out of the mouth when feeding!





Goblin Shark Facts and Information - The Details

Goblin Shark Image

Illustration of a Goblin Shark: By Waite Edgar
This illustration shows the jaws protruding from the mouth, which only occurs during feeding.


Order: Lamniformes Family: Mitsukurinidae Genus: Mitsukurina, Scapanorhynchus, Anomotodon


Distribution and Habits

Mitsukurina owstoni, the living Goblin Shark, or Elfin Shark, is a very rare shark to catch. Less than 50 specimens have been officially recorded and described, although in a rare event, over 100 were caught in 2003 off the coast of Taiwan. Many of the described specimens come from Japan. Although this shark is rarely caught, based on the locations of the specimens caught, they appear to have a nearly global distribution. Places where they have been caught include Japan, Australia, Portugal, South Africa, the Gulf of Mexico, and California.


Although the Goblin shark is a rare catch, they are probably common. The rarity is probably due to the fact this shark is a deep water bottom dweller that is rarely seen near the surface. Most are found on continental slopes between 270 to 960 m deep (FMNH). So they have almost no interaction with human fishing activity. They are listed as "Least Concern" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).


Goblin Shark Physical Description

The pink to gray colored Goblin shark has a bizarre appearance. When Japanese fisherman would catch these in at the turn of the 20th century, they would call them "tenguzame," which loosley translates into "goblin." Goblin is a suitable name, as the shark has a very long and flat snout. It's eyes are very small, and when feeding, the jaws protrude from the mouth. The Goblin shark also has large pelvic and anal fins and a very long tail.

The pinkish appearance comes from the fact that the shark lacks most color pigments in it's skin. The pinkish color is actually comes from the flesh beneath it's skin. Living in the great ocean depths where there is no light, means it doesn't really need color!

The average adult length of a Goblin shark is somewhere around 11 feet, while the largest goblin measured was 12.6 ft (3.84 m) (FMNH).

This video shows a Goblin shark filmed in shallow waters off the coast of Japan. It shows how quickly the jaws can extend.

Goblin Shark Jaw / Dentition
Diagram of a Goblin Shark with jaws in normal and extended position

Diagram of a Goblin Shark showing the Jaws in the normal position,
and the extended position.
Diagram by Kurzon (Own Work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0].

In the deep ocean, there is no light, it's eyes are very small, and almost useless, however, it's long flat snout is full of electromagnetic sensors that can detect its prey.

A unique feature of the goblin shark is its jaws. The jaws are on a ligament hinge that can rapidly project forward, out of the mouth. This enables it to catch unsuspecting prey. This is sort of how a frogs tongue shoots out of the mouth to capture insects. Instead the whole jaw shoots out (see diagram of retracted vs. un-retracted jaw)

The goblin shark has a peg like dentition, similar to a sand tiger shark. The teeth are very long and slender. This dentition is ideal for grasping onto prey and swallowing it whole.


This video shows a Goblin shark filmed in shallow waters off the coast of Japan. It shows how quickly the jaws can extend.






Prehistoric Goblin Sharks: A tale of a "Living Fossil"
Fossil Goblin Shark - Scapanorhynchus

A complete fossil Goblin shark: Scapanorhynchus lewisii from the Cretaceous Chalk of Sahel Alma, Lebanon - Photo by: Cirton (Own Work) , via GFDL & CC by SA3.0

There are 3 genera of Goblin Shark: Mitsukurina, Scapanorhynchus, and Anomotodon. All three are briefly described below:




Mitsukurina owstoni - The living Goblin shark
The living Goblin sharks have been placed in the genus Mitsukurina, while fossil ones are placed in different genera. There is currently debate whether or not to place some fossil genera (Scapanorhynchus) into the Mitsukurina genera. At any rate, there is only 1 living species of Goblin shark: Mitsukurina owstoni.


There are however, 2 separate fossil genera, which have many species attributed.




Scapanorhynchus sp. - Extint Goblin Shark
Lower to Upper Cretaceous
This is a larger genus of Goblin shark that closely resembles the Mitsukurina genus. In fact, it bears such a close resemblance that some researchers consider it to be synonymous with Mitsukurina.

Scapanorhynchus has a global distribution with many different species attributed to it. Some sources cite up to 8 different species, but many of these are probably synonymous with other species. 3 of the widely accepted species are:
S. lewisii, S. rapax, S. texanus

The most common species in the United States is S. texanus. It is commonly reported from Cretaceous outcroppings along the East and Gulf coast (Texas). One place where to find these Goblin shark teeth is the Big Brook, NJ fossil hunting location.




Anomotodon sp. - Extint Goblin Shark
Lower Cretaceous to Oligocene
Anomotodon appears to be a more sucessful prehistoric genera of Goblin shark. It is found past the Cretaceous into the Paleocene, Eocene, and Oligocene.

The most common species in the United States is A. novus. It is commonly reported from Eocene and Paleocene outcroppings along the East coast. One such location is along the Potomac River in Maryland.




Identification of Fossil Goblin Shark Teeth (Scapanorhynchus texanus):
Fossil Goblin Shark Teeth Identification

Identification of the Gobline Shark: Scapanorhynchus texanus
S. texanus are the most common Goblin shark tooth found in Cretaceous sediments in the Eastern U.S. They can easily be confused with the smaller sand tiger sharks. Diagnostic characteristics include:

  • Anterior teeth are heavily striated (grooves running up the enamel).
  • Striations continue onto the root in anteriors and many laterals. Only unworn specimens will show this.
  • The roots have a deep nutrient groove in them (notch in the center).
  • Many of the teeth have one or two cusplets.
    These are fossil Goblin Shark Teeth found on a Black Creek Group Fossil Hunting Trip


  • Images of Fossil Goblin Shark Teeth:

    Fossil Goblin Shark Tooth positions

    This shows Scapanorhynchus texanus (A Cretaceous Goblin Shark) tooth positions.
    This does not show a complete dentition, it shows the variety of tooth shapes that can be found.


    Fossil Goblin Shark Teeth from the Big Brook Fossil Hunting Location

    These are fossil Goblin Shark Teeth found at the Big Brook fossil hunting site


    Scapanorhynchus texanus - Goblin Shark Teeth

    Fossil Goblin Shark Teeth from the Big Brook Fossil Hunting Location

    This image shows Scapanorhynchus texanus fossil Goblin shark teeth from Big Brook, NJ. They are very similar to the living Goblin shark. The teeth have striations on their enamel and have cusps. For more images of S. texanus fossil shark teeth, go to the Big Brook Identification Page.


    Anomotodon novus - Goblin Shark Teeth

    Fossil Goblin Shark Teeth from the Big Brook Fossil Hunting Location

    This image shows Anomotodon novus fossil Goblin Shark teeth from the Potomac River These teeth are much smaller than the other two genera. They also have enemel shoulders on the lateral teeth instead of cusps. The teeth are very slender and the enamel is smooth. The look very similar to sand tiger shark teeth.





    Recommended Books about Sharks:

    Sharks of the World (Princeton Field Guides)
    By: Leonard Compagno, 2005

    Leonard Compagno is very thorough, so this is a VERY COMPLETE guide to sharks. This is the best shark guide I have found thus far. He catalogued all sharks from the FAO Species Catalog. There is a key to shark families, and color plates of sharks. Each individual shark has a description, drawing, examples of upper and lower teeth, distribution, size, behavior, etc...
    I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn about the incredible diversity of sharks!