Forget the Green Goblin, there’s a real one that’s pink. It’s the goblin shark, a deep-water weirdo with flabby pink skin and a jaw that physically shoots out of its face.
Put on your specs kids, you need to see this.
So what exactly is happening here? Well the goblin shark’s jaw is basically loaded in a slingshot. Its mandibular joints (the joints you can feel next to your ears) have two sets of super elastic ligaments. When the jaws are retracted, these ligaments are stretched and tense. It’s when the jaws then explode from the face and engulf an unlucky fish that these slingshot ligaments relax.
While just swimming around, the goblin shark’s jaws stay secret; it’s only when they come across their deep-sea delicacies of fishes, shrimps, and squids that they ‘pop’ out – much to the surprise of their unsuspecting prey.
But despite the freaky face, you have to feel a little sorry for the goblin shark. Genetically speaking, they exist in a family all on their own (Mitsukurinidae), with no other shark species similar enough to the goblin to be considered family.
Their major distinguishing features include their small, needle-like teeth which are narrow and un-serrated. Quite unlike those you’ll be used to seeing in the mouths of great whites or threaded on the necklaces adorned by surfer dudes. However! Because goblin feed on much smaller and softer bodied prey than many other sharks, they don’t need huge cutting teeth.
What also sets goblin sharks apart are their unusual bodies! Forget the firm, muscular ones you might think all sharks have, with the goblin sharks it’s all flab and no ab. Why? Goblin sharks are actually pretty inactive most of the time. They move around slowly and don’t need the tight, strong bodies of those shark species who tackle stronger prey and lead more vigorous lives.
So do you need to worry about these jaw popping predators when you enter the water? While they do have a worldwide distribution you can rest assured that you’re very unlikely to encounter these gruesome goblins. They’re rare in most parts, except around Japan and Portugal and usually stay over a kilometre deep. Most goblin shark sightings are accidental, as by-catch from deep water fishing trawls.
But now to remember what makes these sharks so special!
Rincon, G., Vaske, T., & Gadig, O. B. (2012). Record of the goblin shark Mitsukurina owstoni (Chondrichthyes: Lamniformes: Mitsukurinidae) from the south-western Atlantic. Marine Biodiversity Records, 5, e44.
Yano, K., Miya, M., Aizawa, M., & Noichi, T. (2007). Some aspects of the biology of the goblin shark, Mitsukurina owstoni, collected from the Tokyo Submarine Canyon and adjacent waters, Japan. Ichthyological Research, 54(4), 388-398.