Great Barracuda - Sphyraena barracuda

Great Barracuda - Sphyraena barracuda

April 14, 2015

Goblin Shark revistied

Original 1898 illustration showing protruding jaws (feeding/gulping position)
What is a 'goblin', anyway? According to Mirriam-Webster dictionary, a goblin is "a grotesque sprite or elf that is mischievous or malicious toward people." It adds, "Goblins are demons of any size, usually human or animal form, that are supposed to assail, afflict, and even to torture human beings." Wikipedia describes goblins as: "A Goblin is a legendary evil or mischievous grotesquedwarf-like and daemon or monster that appeared in European stories and accounts during the Middle Ages.” They are attributed with various (sometimes conflicting) abilities, temperaments and appearances depending on the story and country of origin. In some cases, goblins are little creatures related to the brownes and gnome. They are usually small, sometimes only a few inches tall, sometimes the size of a dwarf, and have magical abilities; they are greedy, especially for gold and jewelry." 

This is what their jaws look like most of the time. 
When the David Starr Jordan described the Goblin Shark in 1898 goblins were likely still a part of the culture and lore of the time. I don't know if he coined the common name, or if it was assigned at a later date. The scientific name, Mitsukurina owstoni, honors Mr. Allen Owston who secured the first specimen from a fisherman off Japan, and Professor Keigo Mitsukuri who passed the specimen on to Jordan for official description. It is a fitting and honorable name. The unattributed common name, however, cast a spell upon the shark which remains today.

When a specimen was recently caught in a trawl net off of Australia, it was variously called "evil, vile, creepy, ugly, terrifying, disturbing, hideous." NBC news said it can also be found "in your nightmares." Inaccurate descriptors surely meant to drum up attention and feed the public's thirst for drama. The only adjectives to accurately describe it are "prehistoric," and "living fossil," as those are true.

The Goblin Shark is a rare shark indeed, and from one of the oldest lineages of Elasmobranchs. It is one-of-a-kind and the only species within its genus. It is dissimilar to all other sharks with an elongate snout and highly protrusible jaws. It's soft body allows it to live at crushing depths. It occurs in scattered circumglobal locations over deep continental shelves, upper slopes, and around sea mounts to about 4,200 ft. Encountering one in your annual trip to the beach is less likely than winning the lottery.

While I doubt the common name will change in my life time, it would be refreshing to see it done. Heck, the American Fisheries Society renamed the Jewfish~! Why not rename the Goblin Shark? Such a cool fish deserves a more flattering moniker.


  1. It is dissimilar to all other sharks with an elongate snout and highly protrusible jaws.
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