Day 29

15th November 2001

I watched a trawl come aboard today. It had a surprise inside. There weren’t many fish, but one very big fish made up for it. Once the net was on board it became apparent that we’d caught a large Greenland shark.

Greenland sharks are sometimes found in commercial fishing bycatch. Image courtesy of Julius Nielsen, University of Copenhagen

It was a real monster, close to 5 metres long. It filled the entire width of the trawl deck. Although they are as big as a Great White shark, Greenland Sharks are not the sleek torpedo-shaped lumps of muscle you associate with large predatory sharks. Greenland sharks are at home in the cold and deep waters of the Arctic.

The shark was barely moving but Greenland sharks are known for being slow to conserve energy and so I wasn’t sure if it was close to death or just doing what Greenland sharks do. It certainly wasn’t thrashing around. I would have liked to have dissected it to learn more from it, but since I thought that it had a chance of survival I asked the crew to winch it back overboard.

The parasitic copepod ommatokoita elongata attaches itself to the cornea of Greenland sharks

Before the monster slid back into the deep I had the chance to have a good look at it. It’s small eyes were blinded by parasitic copepods  ommatokoita elongata. These are often found on the cornea of Greenland sharks. Living in such deep waters where light doesn’t reach the sharks probably don’t use their sense of sight much anyway. Just as well.

The shark sank immediately it hit the water, and I hoped that it managed to survive the ordeal of being dragged a thousand metres to the surface in a fishing net. If not I guessed that at least it’s mates would enjoy a hearty meal.

15th November 2017

Greenland sharks are fascinating creatures. One fact that blows me away is that they are thought to live longer than any other vertebrates, living around 400 years. The shark I saw may well have witnessed the Grand Banks back in the days when cod was so abundant you could barely row a boat between them! I very much hope this one survived and is still swimming in those cold black waters.


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