Greenland shark in Canada


From Underwater Times:

Jaws Under Ice: Mysterious Arctic Shark Found in Quebec; ‘Their Eyes Swivel and Follow You’

Underwatertimes.com News Service

Drummondville, Canada (Dec 7, 2006 17:44 EST) In the frigid, murky waters of the St. Lawrence River in Québec, UBC marine biologist and veterinarian Chris Harvey-Clark is painting a clearer picture of a mysterious predator that could be the longest-lived vertebrate on the planet.

The Greenland shark typically inhabits the deep, dark waters between Greenland and the polar ice cap.

At over six metres long and weighing up to 2,000 kilograms, it is the largest shark in the North Atlantic and the only shark in the world that lives under Arctic ice.

Once heavily harvested for its vitamin A-rich oil — as many as 50,000 were caught annually according to a 1948 estimate — little is known about the animal.

“All the papers published on the species, including magazine articles, can barely fill two shoeboxes,” says Harvey-Clark, who became fascinated by sharks at age 12 after seeing a photograph in the Ottawa Citizen that depicted an ice fisherman and what he now knows was a Greenland shark.

“All the questions a Grade two class would ask — where do they go, what do they eat, how do they breed, how big do they get or even how long they live — we can’t say for sure.”

Various historic accounts and anecdotes portray the Greenland shark as a scavenger that dwells in extremely deep water — one was spotted at a depth of more than 2,100 metres.

They favour seal carcasses but will eat almost anything — one was found with an entire caribou in its stomach.

The only age analysis to date, by Norwegian researchers, pegs them growing about half a centimetre a year, which would put a seven metre adult at several hundred years old, easily beating the giant tortoise by decades, even centuries.

Blind, but not deaf or dumb – great new footage of the Greenland shark on ARKive: here.

Caribou in Alaska: here.

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6 thoughts on “Greenland shark in Canada

  1. Under the ice lurks a ‘strange’ Arctic monster

    Tom Spears, The Ottawa Citizen

    Published: Tuesday, May 06, 2008

    Canadian fish scientists are opening a window into the mysterious world of the Greenland shark — the top predator in the Canadian Arctic about which almost nothing is known.

    Except this, says Steve Campana of the Bedford Institute of Oceanography: “These are very, very strange sharks.”

    Its meat is poison. Its mouth is far under its body. It has almost no spine. It’s so lethargic that it doesn’t even snap at the scientists who hook it and attach a radio to it.

    And it may live 200 years.

    Mr. Campana and Aaron Fisk of the University of Windsor took their team to the sea ice 300 kilometres north of Iqaluit, camping out in a frigid plywood shed in April to tag and release Greenland sharks.

    Only one other big shark in the world is almost unknown — the extremely rare deep-ocean “megamouth.”

    Why study the Greenland shark?

    In the eastern Arctic “this is the apex (top) predator, the king of the food web, along with the polar bear. There’s a sister species in the western Arctic. And as with any ecosystem, if you don’t know anything about the apex predator, you’re in a lot of trouble figuring out what’s going on.”

    Everything about this fish is odd, Mr. Campana says.

    “They are really the antithesis to the fast-swimming great white and mako (sharks).”

    The cold water might make them slow, but even in warmer water they just cruise along the bottom, slurping up fish, and occasionally seals. The seals may be dead when the sharks eat them. No one really knows.

    Researchers are hoping that samples of bone may hint at a fish’s age; the team will look for radioactive elements released during atmospheric tests of nuclear weapons, to show which fish were alive in the 1960s.

    The Greenland shark can grow to eight metres and has hundreds of sharp teeth.

    “Just running your hand lightly along them you can slice yourself wide open,” says Mr. Campana.

    “When we found a dead shark we would open up its stomach. Every single one was jam-packed with food. A lot of it was large fish,” but there were some baby seals.

    It’s possible the shark scavenged dead seals, but seals are also known to be curious, and some young ones may have wanted too close a look at the shark.

    The sharks are incredibly abundant, says Mr. Campana, “and yet we don’t have a clue how fast they grow, how old they get, where they give birth, how many they give birth to…”

    The team is using radio tags, which don’t hurt the sharks, to record information about their living conditions (water temperature and light) and location. The tags are programmed to release months later and then “pop up” to the surface and radio their findings to a satellite.

    Inuit fisherman often catch them by accident, hooking a turbot that a shark then bites on the hook.

    The meat is poison if cooked like normal fish, so full of urea that it takes boiling and re-boiling to make it safe.

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