The Greenland shark, Somniosus microcephalus, also known as the sleeper shark, gurry shark, ground shark, grey shark, or by the Inuit Eqalussuaq, is a large shark native to the waters of the North Atlantic Ocean around Greenland and Iceland. These sharks live farther north than any other shark species. They are closely related to the Pacific sleeper shark. This is one of the largest species of shark, of dimensions comparable to those of the Great White Shark. Large Greenland Sharks grow to 6.4 m (21 ft) and 1000 kg (2200 lbs), and possibly up to 7.3 m (24 ft). It rivals the Pacific sleeper shark (possibly up to 7 m or 23 ft long) as the largest species in the Somniosidae family. The greenland shark is known to be long-lived.
Habits and habitat
Greenland sharks are deep-water sharks, living at depths up to 2,000 m (6,600 ft), but information has shown that they do inhabit shallower water as they have been filmed in depths as shallow as 8 m (24 ft) in the estuary of the St. Lawrence River in North America. Their stomachs have contained the remains of fish, and mammals such as seals, reindeer, horses, and polar bears. An entire reindeer, minus its antlers, was found in the stomach contents of one Greenland shark. This species has been well documented as a scavenger, explaining many of the above records of stomach contents.
This shark frequently is host to a parasitic copepod, Ommatokoita elongata, that attaches itself to the cornea of the eye and feeds on the shark's corneal tissue; the resulting scar tissue leads to partial blindness of the shark. However, studies show the Greenland shark can probably detect light. The copepod is a whitish-yellow creature that was said to be bioluminescent, but this was proven false by American shark parasitologist George Benz. Some theorize that the function of the copepod is to attract prey for the shark, like a fishing lure. This is suggested by the fact that these normally sluggish sharks have been found with much faster-moving animals (such as squid) in their stomachs. However, the theory of copepods acting as fishing lures is weakened by reports by Canadian researcher William Sommers in Arctic Canada, where he witnessed Greenland sharks snatching caribou from the water's edge. Biologists know little of the shark's reproduction and life cycle, aside from ovoviviparity; its lifespan may be as long as 200 years.
In the 2000s, the Greenland shark has been regularly observed in the Gulf of St. Lawrence estuary, where it swims in deep and shallow water. The Greenland shark in the St. Lawrence is not completely devoid of the parasite Ommatokoita elongata, and a number of specimens without the parasite do show signs of scarring on the cornea. In fact, the population in the St. Lawrence appears to be very visual. The first shark observed by researchers in the St. Lawrence was a large and slow-moving female.
Greenland sharks as food
The flesh of a Greenland shark is poisonous. This is due to the presence of the toxin trimethylamine oxide, which, upon digestion, breaks down into trimethylamine, producing effects similar to extreme drunkenness. Occasionally, sled dogs that end up eating the flesh are unable to stand up due to the neurotoxins. However, it can be eaten if it is boiled in several changes of water or dried or rotted for some months to produce Kæstur Hákarl, often Hákarl for short. Traditionally this was done by burying the shark in boreal ground, exposing it to several cycles of freezing and thawing. It is considered a delicacy in Iceland and Greenland.
The Greenland shark's poisonous flesh has a high urea content, which gave rise to the Inuit legend of Skalugsuak, the first Greenland shark. The legend says that an old woman washed her hair in urine and dried it with a cloth. The cloth blew into the ocean to become Skalugsuak.
The Greenland Shark and Elasmobranch Education and Research Group (GEERG), led by Canadian researchers, has been studying the Greenland shark in the Saguenay Fjord and St. Lawrence Estuary since 2001. The Greenland shark has repeatedly been documented (captured or washed ashore) in the Saguenay since at least 1888. Accidental captures and strandings have also been recorded in the St. Lawrence Estuary for over a century. Current research conducted by GEERG involves the study of the behaviour of the Greenland shark by observing it underwater using scuba and video equipment and by placing acoustic and satellite tags (telemetry) on live specimens; however, overall very little is known about this mysterious species.
- ^ O'Donnell, Jacinth. Jurassic Shark documentary (2000); broadcast on Discovery Channel, August 5, 2006
- ^ http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Somniosus_microcephalus.html
- ^ http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/fish/Gallery/Descript/GreenlandShark/GreenlandShark.html
- ^ a b O’Reilly, Lindsay. "The Greenland Shark", Canadian Geographic, March/April 2004. (accessed 1 July 2007)
- ^ Greenland Shark (Somniosus microcephalus), Richard Ellis Gallery.
- ^ Canadian Geographic: Searching for a Monster
- ^ "Tracking the Mysterious Greenland Shark". Florida Museum of Natural History. (accessed 1 July 2007)
- ^ "The Greenland Shark", The Greenland Shark and Elasmobranch Education and Research Group (GEERG). (accessed 5 July 2008)
- ^ http://www.sportfishingmag.com/species/fish-facts/shark-eating-35284.html (Accessed 3/20/08)
- ^ Skipper Uses Knife To Kill 600-Kilo Shark
- ^ a b Greenland Shark and Elasmobranch Education and Research Group
- ^ Idrobo Masters Thesis, February 2009.
- ^ "GEERG: The Greenland Shark" http://www.geerg.ca/gshark1.htm (Accessed 7/5/08)
|This article includes a list of references or external links, but its sources remain unclear because it has insufficient inline citations. Please help to improve this article by introducing more precise citations where appropriate. (June 2008)|
- Kyne et al. (2005). Somniosus microcephalus. 2006. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN 2006. www.iucnredlist.org. Retrieved on 11 May 2006. Database entry includes justification for why this species is near threatened
- Somniosus microcephalus (TSN 160611). Integrated Taxonomic Information System. Retrieved on 23 January 2006.
- Froese, Rainer, and Daniel Pauly, eds. (2006). "Somniosus microcephalus" in FishBase. May 2006 version.
- "Greenland Shark" on "As It Happens" May 6, 2008; CBC Radio 1(WMV file)