|Image: Nick Caloyianis/National Geographic|
The Greenland Shark is the most northerly of all sharks. They live in the freezing waters of the north Atlantic and Arctic, around Canada, Greenland, Scandinavia and Iceland. For all that, they are sometimes spotted as far south as Spain and the United States. They don't appear at all averse to a little bit of exploring.
With all this freezing cold, they have had to adapt. First of all they're massive! A big one can reach 6.4 metres (21 ft) long and 1,000 kilograms (2,200 lb) in weight, and possibly more. They're also chunky, with small dorsal fins and a short snout. This is not a shark that is built for speed. You will find no streamlined elegance here, just a stodgy determination to survive. It's the cabbage soup of sharks.
But a really stinky, poisonous cabbage soup; Greenland Sharks have lots of urea and neurotoxins in their flesh. This stuff stops crystals from forming and keeps their proteins working in the bitter cold. Eating it will cause vomiting, diarrhoea, convulsions and other nastiness.
Then of course there's energy conservation. Greenland Sharks are also known as Sleeper Sharks because of just how ridiculously slow they are.
Greenland Shark unmoved by laser bearing, aquatic, mech guy.
Apparently it's for measuring the length.
Despite the lethargy, Greenland Sharks are apex predators who eat EVERYTHING. Carrion, molluscs, squid, fish, seabirds, seals, small whales (!), horses (?), reindeer (?), polar bears (?!)... all have been found in their stomach. There are stories of them exploding out of the water to grab caribou and drag them into the sea. A fella on an EOL podcast reckons they might wait around near those holes seals make in the ice and pull them down. He also gives a pretty good reason for why we don't know much about the Greenland Shark. I don't like ice underneath me, swimming around with ice above me... no thank you.
They don't have it all their own way, though. There is a parasite who (prepare yourself)... attaches itself to the shark's eye and eats the cornea. There, I said it.
How to accessorise an eyeball.
For Greenland Sharks, crustaceans eating your eye is normal. Lack of crustaceans eating your eye is elitism.
So most of these sharks are approaching blindness, but they suffer through it because presumably they don't actually need their eyesight much.
In fact, the hunting habits of the Greenland Shark are so mysterious that some have suggested that the Copepod acts as a lure to fast-moving prey like squid and certain fish. The shark could then pounce from a close distance. It could be true, the Greenland Shark does after all look like a big rock and moves at about the same pace.
|Image: JLplusAL via Flickr|
The other thing is how long do they live for? One shark was captured and measured twice and was found to have grown 9 cm (3.5 in) in 16 years. With that growth rate some of them could be a couple hundred years old! Given their slow metabolism that may well be possible, but they might also get growth spurts for whatever reason.
It's amazing how little we know about this gigantic beast! Big thanks to Dear Reader Crunchy for suggesting this tantalizing mystery, I had absolutely no idea they were so interesting! David Attenborough + the first ever film of a Greenland Shark hunting, please.