Puzzled scientists are trying to figure out what a giant shark native to the Arctic was doing in significantly warmer waters thousands of miles south of its frigid home.
Researchers from Florida International University and the Belize Fisheries Department recently discovered a Greenland shark, which normally lives in the frigid waters of the Arctic, in the tropical waters of the Caribbean Sea while working with local Belizean fishermen to tag tiger sharks, according to a press release. release from the university.
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The shark was swimming near the Belize Barrier Reef, the second longest barrier reef in the world, the researchers said. The discovery marks the first time a shark of its kind has been found in western Caribbean waters.
Devanshi Kasana, a marine biologist at FIU and a Ph.D. candidate in the university’s Predator Ecology and Conservation lab, initially thought what she was looking at was a sixgill shark, which is known to live in the deep waters off coral reefs.
“I knew it was something unusual, and so did the fishermen, who had never seen anything like it in all their combined years of fishing,” Kasana said in a statement.
Kasana then conferred with his advisor and other shark experts, sending text messages with a photo of the creature. The final decision was that it was “definitely” in the sleeper shark family due to its large size, and was most likely a Greenland shark or a hybrid between a Greenland shark and a Pacific sleeper shark, according to the FIU.
It is unclear whether the researchers were able to tag the shark.
“This discovery is so exciting because it suggests that these ancient predators potentially roam the oceans from the poles to the equator, but stay very deep in tropical waters,” Kasana, who is still in Belize, said in an email to ABC News . “It feels great to be a part of this and to be a part of what could be the first step in protecting dormant sharks in this region.”
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Little is known about the Greenland shark. The half-blind shark lives by scavenging on polar bear carcasses and can live up to 250 and perhaps even 500 years, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, making them the longest-lived vertebrate known to science.
Greenland sharks are also massive in size and can grow up to 23 feet long and weigh up to 1.5 tons, according to National Geographic.
“Because little is known about them, it means that nothing can be definitively ruled out about the species,” the researchers said. “Greenland sharks can troll in the depths of the ocean all over the world.”
Greenland sharks, or Somniosus microcephalus, are listed as a vulnerable species on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species. The biggest threats they face are climate change and extreme weather, which causes their habitats to change and shift, and fishing and harvesting.
Hakarl, fermented Greenland shark or other sleeping sharks, is a national dish in Iceland. Greenland shark meat is poisonous until it is dried and fermented over four or five months, giving off a strong smell and taste of ammonia.
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Kasana emphasized that the discovery of the Greenland shark was a joint effort among members of the Belizean shark fishing community, the Belize Department of Fisheries and FIU researchers.
The Belizean government recently declared three atolls, including Glover’s Reef where the Greenland shark was found, and the deeper waters surrounding it as protected areas for sharks. This declaration will help keep animals, including undiscovered animals that may roam the waters around Glover’s Reef, safe, Kasana said.
“Great discoveries and conservation can happen when fishermen, scientists and government work together,” said Beverly Wade, Director of the Blue Bond and Finance Permanence Unit in the Office of the Prime Minister of Belize. “We can really improve what we can do individually, while doing some great conservation work and making amazing discoveries, like this one.”
Shark native to the Arctic found thousands of miles south in the Caribbean originally appeared on abcnews.go.com