Sharks are creatures that have built up stories for themselves since they were originally recorded in history, likely thousands of years ago. They are often viewed in a sinister light, despite the fact that from 2001 to 2006, only about four unprovoked shark attacks led to deaths throughout the entire world. Shark Week, aired by the Discovery Channel in July or August every year, has led to informing many more people about the varieties and stories behind sharks. With over 470 species of sharks, it came as a massive surprise to the world when fishermen off of a Japanese coast found a Megamouth shark on Wednesday.
Just as its name implies, the Megamouth shark has a very large oral orifice, one that can reach over three feet wide at maximum. The Megamouths have also been known to reach lengths of up to 18 feet long, making them about as large as great white sharks. Even though the Megamouths are not very skilled swimmers, they seek out plankton and jellyfish to eat, ensuring that they have plenty of food without much work.
The reason Megamouth sharks are so rare is because only 58 sightings of the creature have been recorded. The first recorded discovery of a Megamouth shark was in November of 1976, off the coast of Hawai’i. The shark accidentally became entangled in a U.S. Navy ship anchor, and after examination, was found to be a type of shark that had never been noticed or documented before.
Following the catch of a 13-foot female Megamouth shark found off the coast of Japan this week, about 1,500 people attended the live autopsy of the shark, held at the Marine Science Museum of Shizuoka City, Japan. Many of the attendees took pictures and video, and the Megamouth is now preserved in the museum.
The Megamouth shark near Japan was captured at a depth of about 2,600 feet, a slightly confusing encounter for a creature that is known to swim much deeper. Usually these sharks are able to survive several miles below the surface, but the Megamouths have also been observed to swim closer to the surface in nighttime hours. Their food sources, often times krill, are more likely to rise through the water column during these hours as well.
While the Megamouth shark has no need to aggressively hunt its food, it does have a special bodily feature that enables it to lure its prey more effectively. The proximities of its gigantic mouth have luminous photopores, areas of its skin and organs that emit light, proving to attract smaller creatures that can be eaten. The Megamouth also uses its filtration methods to remove unwanted materials from its food.
Philippine fishermen found a Megamouth shark in 2009 in the central Philippines near Burias Island. After it struggled in their nets and eventually died, the fishermen brought it to land in the Sorsogon province, where scientists were able to document information on the shark before it was sold for consumption.
Shark Week 2014, launching in early August, will likely feature both of the notable shark captures this year so far, as well as any other shark encounters that happen between now and then. Just prior to the Megamouth capture, a fisherman from Georgia hauled aboard an equally rare goblin shark near Florida coasts, snapping a few pictures before returning it to the ocean.
The Megamouth shark that was found off of a Japanese coast, now on display in the Shizuoka City museum, is sure to intrigue many future guests. Upon the discovery of such rarely seen sharks, further knowledge of them will hopefully allow scientists to develop technology in the future that can collect information from animals as they remain in their natural habitat.
By Brad Johnson