#LoveSpecies nominee: Greenland shark
Nominated by: SharkFest
Why do you love it?
The Greenland shark (Somniosus microcephalus) is the oldest living vertebrate animal – previously thought to be the bowhead whale – and one of the Arctic’s most mysterious species!
Weighing 900kg on average and reaching up to 7m long, the Greenland shark is one of only 2 sharks found in the Arctic, and one of the largest sharks on the planet. Despite reaching a similar size as the Great White shark, Greenland sharks are so slow that they are often called ‘sleeper sharks’ and they are blinded by parasites that feed on their eyes.
Scientists recently found a 400-year-old female Greenland shark, who would have reached sexual maturity at about 150 years old. She was born during the reign of James I, reached adulthood around the time that the American revolution began, and has lived through 2 world wars.
Greenland sharks prey upon almost everything – eels, whales, sea urchins, seals, crabs, fish, other sharks and even polar bear and caribou! The Greenland shark’s position as one of the top predators of the Arctic food chain makes it a very important species to research and conserve.
What are the threats to the Greenland Shark?
Unfortunately, Greenland sharks are easy to catch because of their size and slow speed. Fishermen by Nunavut’s turbot fisheries and elsewhere often accidently catch Greenland sharks (as bycatch), and because they’re not edible they’re discarded.
The varied diet of the Greenland shark could also put them at risk of eating human-created wastes and pollutants that are not part of the shark’s natural diet. Human development, travel and climate change also impact the fragile environment that the Greenland sharks rely on.
Luckily Greenland shark populations are currently believed to be healthy!
What are you doing to save it?
SharkFest UK is encouraging marine conservation organisations to collaborate for the good of sharks and rays worldwide. SharkFest UK also inspires children and students to take up a career in shark research, education and/ or conservation.
WWF is supporting and participating in research that tracks Greenland sharks as part of the Ocean Tracking Network for monitoring sustainable ocean management around the world.
Today very little is known about the Greenland shark – critical hunting habitats, mating and birth, how many young they have, etc. This information is crucial for understanding the impacts of human-activities on Greenland sharks, and learning how we can best protect this mysterious, ancient shark.