For the first time ever, a Greenland shark — that up until now scientists had thought lived only in Arctic waters — was recently spotted near a Caribbean reef.
Florida International University doctoral candidate Devanshi Kasana was on a tiger shark tagging trip in waters off Belize when she and local Belizean fishermen came across the fish.
One of the lines caught a shark that Kasana at first couldn’t quite identify.
“At first, I was sure it was something else, like a six gill shark that are well known from deep waters off coral reefs. I knew it was something unusual and so did the fishers, who hadn’t ever seen anything quite like it in all their combined years of fishing.”
After tagging and releasing the shark, she contacted her Ph.D. advisor Demian Chapman at the Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium and sent him a photo. To Kasana’s surprise, Chapman said it wasn’t a six gill shark but really resembled a Greenland shark (Somniosus microcephalus).
Following more consultations with various Greenland shark experts, it was determined that the shark Kasana and her Belizean fisher colleagues had caught was part of the sleeper shark family, either a Greenland shark or a Pacific sleeper (Somniosus pacificus).
The location where the shark was found — Glover’s Reef Atoll — has a slope that descends down to 9,500ft/2,896m, deep enough where the water could be cold enough to allow the Greenland shark to hang out.
The thing is, very little is known about Greenland sharks.
According to Kasana and her colleagues’ report published in the journal Marine Biology:
“This is the first record of a sleeper shark in the western Caribbean region and further supports the hypothesis that these sharks, best known from polar and subpolar latitudes, occur at depth in tropical regions.”