The Greenland shark is among the rarer shark species that majorly lives deep in the Arctic Ocean. This animal is famously very slow with everything that it does and has a very massive size. Also called the grey shark, the gurry shark, or eqalussuaq by the Inuit people, this shark has so many fascinating things about it. Therefore, we have compiled 10 incredible Greenland shark facts that you should be aware of.
1. Greenland sharks live incredibly long lives
These sharks have the longest lifespan of any known vertebrates, with estimates being around 200-500 years. Initially, these estimates could only be derived from the growth rate of the sharks since they lack other markers that help scientists determine the age of sharks. However, recent advances in carbon dating techniques have allowed scientists to measure the age of Greenland sharks using proteins that are formed inside their eyes. When this method was used with a 16.4 feet long shark, they placed its age to be between 272-512 years old. This will mean that some Greenland sharks alive today were alive before the American Civil War.
2. Greenland sharks have toxic meat
The flesh of the Greenland shark is highly concentrated with neurotoxin trimethylamine oxide that has effects that are similar to drunkenness on the body. Furthermore, the meat has a urine-like odor because of the high levels of urea that it contains.
Before the meat of the Greenland shark can be safe for consumption, it must be treated. This treatment can be done by drying, boiling, and fermenting it for many months. Interestingly, if you go to Iceland today, the meat of the Greenland shark is used for a national delicacy called Hakarl.
3. Greenland sharks love the cold
Greenland sharks are great fans of cold environments. They love the cold so much that during summer, they dive deeper into the colder aspects of the ocean, and during winter, they migrate to the surface where it is coldest.
These sharks are native to the North Atlantic and Arctic oceans, and they are truly sub-Arctic sharks that can stay in the cold waters of the Arctic all year long. Their preferred temperature ranges from 30.2°F-50°F (-1°C-10°C).
4. Greenland sharks’ eyeballs are usually attacked by a parasite
Greenland sharks have poor vision and can even grow partially blind due to a parasite called Ommatokoita elongata. This parasite latches onto the eye of the Greenland shark, destroying the cornea. However, the Greenland shark is not affected so much by this because for its preferred dark habitat, it uses other senses to move and find prey.
5. Greenland sharks do everything very slowly
Greenland sharks never seem to be in a hurry in all that they have to do. They swim very slowly at an average rate of 0.76 miles per hour, though they may take on short bursts of speed to capture prey. Also, reproduction is very slow for these animals, with scientists estimating that they don’t reach sexual maturity until 150 years of age.
6. Greenland sharks will eat about anything
Greenland sharks are scavengers that will eat virtually any flesh that they find. Indeed, they may hunt and eat fish and seals, but primarily, scientists say that they are attracted to the smell of rotting meat in the water. It should be noted that some rather interesting animals have been found in the stomachs of Greenland sharks. These include polar bears, moose, horses, and a whole reindeer. The fact that remains of a polar bear were found in a Greenland shark has led scientists to question whether polar bears have a challenge to their spot as top predators in the Arctic.
7. Greenland sharks hunt prey that is asleep
Greenland sharks are cryptic and slow movers, and they typically will attack their prey while it is sleeping. Their coloration makes it easy to move towards prey undetected, and then they close the final distance by opening their buccal cavity to create a suction that draws prey towards them even as they move towards it.
The way they capture prey may explain why whole animals are usually found in their stomach.
8. Greenland sharks play a role in Inuit legends
The Greenland shark has quite a couple of myths that revolve around it in Inuit legends, thanks largely to its high urea content. Its high urea content birthed the legend of Skalugsuak, which is supposed to be the first Greenland shark. According to the legend, Skalugsuak came into being from a cloth that was used to dry the hair of an old woman that had washed her hair in urine.
Another legend associated with the Greenland shark is the belief that it lives within the urine pot of Sedna, the goddess of the sea. This supposedly explains the urine-like smell that its skin has. Another legend states that the shark was a creature that was formed from Sedna’s fingers when her father cut off her fingers and drowned her.
9. Greenland sharks have an interesting teeth design
The way their teeth are designed, they can cut out a plug of flesh from whatever they feed on. This means they may not even need to kill to feed; they can just cut out a round chunk and eat. Greenland sharks possess 48-52 pointed, thin upper teeth and 50-52 smooth, square, sideways curved bottom teeth. The lower teeth are used to grind flesh, while the upper teeth are used to grasp the prey. This design means that by simply moving their head in a circular motion, these sharks can cut out a plug of flesh.
10. Humans don’t need to worry about Greenland sharks
Considering that polar bears and reindeer are among the remains found in these massive creatures, you may be wondering whether you could run into one while taking a dive. However, the preferred habitats of these sharks are not places that you find humans swimming about – the coldest parts of the Arctic and North Atlantic oceans. Furthermore, they aren’t likely to attack boats or ships. It would appear that our greatest worry about these animals will be eating their skin without treating them.
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