Reel Big Fish

Rare goblin shark found in Gulf

A team of shrimpers dredged up the second goblin shark ever seen in the Gulf of Mexico—perhaps also, after seeing that face, the contents of their stomachs. (TomoNews US/YouTube)
A team of shrimpers dredged up the second goblin shark ever seen in the Gulf of Mexico—perhaps also, after seeing that face, the contents of their stomachs.

It doesn't take a master shrimper to pick out which of his red-bodied catches is not like the others. However, Georgia trawler Carl Moore's first appraisal of a rare goblin shark proved a keener eye than most.

Midway through an April fishing trip off Key West, Moore's team muscled the second goblin shark ever seen in the Gulf of Mexico onto his boat—floundering but alive. Moore remarked that the deep-sea shark, allegedly 15 feet long and named for a mythical Japanese demon, looked "prehistoric." And in a way, he was right. 

First documented in 1898 off the coast of Japan, the goblin shark is the only living member of the family Mitsukurinidae, which dates back 125 million years. Scientists know how long goblin sharks live, how quickly they grow, and how they use electric fields to detect prey, but better understanding deep-sea fauna (in this case, between 900 and 4,500 feet below sea level) has been a task.

Though rarely seen by humans, and mostly near Japan, goblin sharks fall under the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species' Least Concern list, as their population is expected to be quite large.

Thanks to some quick photography work from Moore, however, shark expert John Carlson and colleagues are pooling new knowledge into a paper about these elusive creatures. Moore, who's been shrimping in the Gulf for half a century, only recently started photographing his finds; he wants to show his three-year-old grandson what goes into the shrimping process.

Apart from the photo and first-person accounts, Moore doesn't have proof of the catch of his career—it's his practice to throw back anything still breathing.

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