Goblin Shark

In 1897, David Star Jordan a famous American Ichthyologist of the time was presented with a most bizarre looking shark.

A Goblin Shark in the tank area

A Goblin Shark in the tank area
Photographer: Jason Armstrong © Australian Museum

The shark had been secured by Mr Allen Owston from a fisherman who had caught it in deep water near Yokohama, Japan. Owston brought the specimen to the University of Tokyo placing it in the care of Professor Kakichi Mitsukuri. Mitsukuri took the specimen with him to the United States where he was attending an International Fur Seal Conference and requested Jordan identify and describe it. The specimen, a 1.7m young male became the type specimen of a completely new family of lamnoid sharks, which Jordan named Mitsukurinidae in honour of the Japanese Professor. He gave the shark the species name Mitsukurina owstoni in 1898.

The common name Goblin Shark comes from the name given to the shark by the 19th century Japanese fishermen from Odawara, where the sharks were often caught. The fisherman called them 'tengu-zame' which translates as 'goblin' or 'elfin' shark. Allen Owston reported that the Goblin Sharks were most often caught in spring from a bank (underwater mass) 94.6 m deep, with depths of 540-720 m close by. Females were mostly caught, and it is believed they moved onto the bank to breed. The fishermen caught the sharks in nets, extracted oil from the liver and used the flesh for fertilizer.

In the 105 years since its initial description, less than 50 specimens of Goblin Sharks have been recorded from scattered localities in the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans, with the majority of captures reported from Japan. The sharks are usually caught in bottom trawls at depths up to 1200 m.

A 3.84 m male was captured off Sydney in 1983. The Fisheries Research Vessel Kapala caught this large specimen in a trawl at a depth of 960 m. The specimen was measured, dissected and cast. The head, tail, fins and claspers (organs used to transfer sperm from the male to the female shark during mating) are now held in the fish collection of the Australian Museum. The Museum also holds three other specimens, the most recent caught off Bermagui, New South Wales, in 2000.

Little is known about the behaviour of the Goblin Shark, however, with 50 or so specimens held in museums around the world, Icthyologists are slowly beginning to understand more about the biology of these unusual animals and their deepsea home.

Link to factsheet:
Goblin Shark

Mark McGrouther , Senior Fellow
Last Updated:

Tags Collection stories, shark, ichthyology, collection, science, Goblin Shark, deepsea, > 2m, adult, marine, Mitsukurina owstoni, pointy teeth, shovel-like snout,