A rare megamouth shark was caught off the coast of Japan, approximately three miles from Owase Port in Mie Prefecture. According to reports, the massive beast was more than 15 feet long and weighed nearly one ton. Following a short public display, the carcass was purchased and shipped outside the prefecture, where it will be processed into food products.
Discovery reports the first known megamouth shark was caught by a United States Navy crew off the coast of Oahu, Hawaii, in 1976. As they were unable to identify the unusual creature, the crew preserved the carcass and transported it to the Waikiki Aquarium for further examination.
Ichthyologist Leighton Taylor later confirmed the shark was a previously undocumented species of planktivorous shark, which are filter feeders.
A majority of sharks are predators, which hunt and kill other fish and marine mammals for food. However, megamouth sharks simply swim with their mouths open, catching plankton along the way.
As reported by ReefQuest, megamouths, like the other two known species of planktivorous sharks, have “cartilage-cored, finger-like gill rakers” within their gills.
Very rare 5-meter megamouth shark sold to fish market in Japan. pic.twitter.com/AfWue48RHS
— Global Times (@globaltimesnews) April 18, 2016
Little is known about the rare sharks. However, scientists are fairly certain the “rakers” are used to filter plankton out of sea water for consumption.
“The megamouth’s 90 small teeth, called gill rakers, separate the edible portion of each mouthful from the inedible. Using their protruding jaws, huge rubbery lips and large tongue, the shark sucks the edible food toward the back of its mouth. When it has a good batch of food, it swallows it, spits out the water, and starts again.”
Although they are commonly referred to as megamouth sharks, Leighton Taylor gave the massive creatures the name Megachasma pelagios, which means “huge yawning cavern of the open sea.”
The most distinguishing characteristic of the megamouth shark is naturally its enormous mouth. They also have an unusually soft, flabby body and soft fins. Scientists believe they can grow up to lengths of 16 feet weigh more than 2,600 pounds.
Very little is known about the massive creature’s behavior. However, scientists believe they live in the deep sea and migrate to the surface to feed. SeaPics reports the theory was confirmed in 1990, when scientists captured, tagged, and released a megamouth shark in California.
According to reports, the tagged shark spent its nights feeding approximately 50 feet below the surface, where plankton are plentiful. At dawn, the rare shark descended approximately 500 feet into the deep sea. However, there have been reported sightings of megamouth sharks near the surface during the day.
In October 1990, a megamouth was spotted by kayakers near Dana Point, California. According to witness reports, the peaceful creature rose to the surface briefly before descending out of sight.
Unfortunately, as they have few defenses, planktivorous sharks are risking their lives when they rise to the surface during the day.
In August 1989, a 16-foot megamouth shark was observed struggling with a pod of sperm whales off the coast of Manado, Indonesia. Although it was unclear whether the whales were actively trying to kill or simply playing with the shark, it did appear to be in distress.
— Ocean Champions (@OceanChampions) April 17, 2016
Over the last 40 years, there have been fewer than 60 confirmed sightings of megamouth sharks. A vast majority of the sightings were reported off the coasts of Japan, the Philippines, and Taiwan.
Although they are highly sought by scientists for research purposes, the massive sharks are often purchased by fishmongers, who process them for food.
The megamouth shark caught off the coast of Japan was reportedly purchased by a fishmonger and transported outside the prefecture, where it will be processed for human consumption. In most cases, scientists request to examine the rare creatures. However, fishermen are often reluctant to surrender their catch without making a profit.
[Image via FLMNH Ichtyology (FLMNH Ichtyology) [CC BY-SA 4.0 [http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)] | Wikimedia Commons]