A juvenile goblin shark was caught in a trawl net last week off the southeast Australian coast near Gabo Island, which is situated just to the south of the Victoria-New South Wales border.
The goblin shark is a rarely seen species of deep-water shark which stopped evolving 70 million years ago during the dinosaur era, for which reason it is often referred to as a “living fossil”. Described by Alan Scrymgeour of the Sapphire Coast Marine Discovery Centre as belonging to an “evolutionary dead end”, the species is the last surviving member of the Mitsukurinidae family, which dates back to approximately 125 million years ago.
Lochlainn Kelly, 22, was fishing with his father Mike when he spotted the shark — whether it was still alive at this point we don’t know — in their net full of crayfish. Mr Scrymgeour estimated the specimen was two to three years old judging by its length of 1.2 metres. Fully grown goblin sharks grow to around 3.8 metres.
The two fishermen handed the shark over to the Wharf Aquarium, whose curator, Michael McMaster, spoke to Grind TV: “They are a very deep-water shark that has been rarely recorded from Australian waters,” he said. “[It] does not mean that they are rare in the waters in which they live, it is just that very little fishing is done at the depth in which they live. Because so few have been studied very little is known about them.” McMaster also said they locate the crustaceans and cephalopods that constitute their diet using hundreds of small sensors in their “nasal paddle”, which can detect minutely small electrical fields. As a consequence of this hunting method, he said, “their teeth are often found in underwater electrical cables.”
They tend to dwell in water around 3,000 to 4,000 feet deep, though this one was caught at at depth of around 2,000 feet. Last year an 18-foot goblin shark, shown below, was caught with a net in the gulf of Mexico by fisherman Carl Moore, who released the shark back into the water after taking photos of the animal. NOAA shark expert John Carlson said it was “only the second confirmed sighting in the Gulf; the majority of specimens are found off Japan or in the Indian Ocean and around South Africa.” Moore was told at the time that he was probably one of only ten people who had seen one alive.