Rare Goblin Shark Caught in Gulf of Mexico

A rare goblin shark on the deck of a commercial fishing boat in the Gulf of Mexico, south of Key West, Florida. Photograph by Carl Moore

Commercial fisher Carl Moore wasn’t sure what he had netted last week just south of Key West, Florida (map), when he saw the fish’s flat, blade-like snout. Only after the Georgia angler photographed and released his catch was its identity confirmed: It was a goblin shark, a rare deep-sea shark, and it’s believed to be only the second such specimen ever caught in the Gulf of Mexico.

These sharks are so rarely encountered that any information about them is eagerly devoured by researchers, says John Carlson, a research biologist for the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries Service. After Moore examined his curious catch and took a series of photos of it, he released it back into the ocean and contacted NOAA. Moore’s photos were referred to Carlson, who specializes in sharks and was excited to get more data on this rare one.

“We don’t know how long they live; we don’t know how often they reproduce, or even how big they are when they reproduce,” Carlson says. “They’re a mystery.”

Moore had told NOAA he thought the shark he released was about 18 feet (5.4 meters) long. When Carlson and colleagues analyzed Moore’s photographs, they gauged the length to be more like 15 feet (4.5 meters) long. And they made an educated guess about the shark’s sex.

Carlson says male sharks have external sexual characteristics called claspers, two fin-like appendages near the tail that males use to hold on to females while mating. “From the photographs, we don’t see those, so we’re suspecting it’s a female,” he says.

A photo of a goblin shark
The 15 foot (4.5 meter) long goblin shark on the deck of a commercial fishing boat. Photograph by Carl Moore

Life in the Dark

Moore caught the goblin shark at around 2,000 feet (610 meters) deep. That’s on the shallower end of the average depth range for this species, Carlson says: They’re usually found between 2,000 and 3,000 feet (610 and 914 meters) deep. That makes it one of the deepest occurring species among sharks and their relatives—and many of the shark’s unusual features probably are adaptations to its habitat, he says. (Read about other animals with weird snouts.)

Sharks have a series of sensors in their head called ampullae of Lorenzini, which enable them to pick up the electrical signals of animals around them. The goblin shark’s unusually shaped head may provide an advantage in the gloomy deep, Carlson says, as the distribution of those sensors along the long, flat blade would extend the radius in which the sharks could detect prey. “It’s the same sort of thing with hammerhead sharks,” he says, with the ampullae found along the edge of the animal’s distinctively shaped head.

Once a goblin shark locates its prey, that’s where its needle-like teeth come in. Carlson says the teeth act like knives, impaling and holding on to soft-bodied prey such as fish and squid.

Shrouded in Mystery

The first recorded appearance of a goblin shark in the Gulf of Mexico was fairly recent, in 2000. Before that, the last time anyone reported seeing a goblin shark in the North Atlantic was in the 1970s off the Bahamas, says Carlson.

They’ve been found in the waters off Brazil, French Guiana, Colombia, and the Indo-Pacific, but “probably 80 percent of known records [of these sharks] occur off Japan,” the research biologist says. (See “Rare ‘Prehistoric’ Goblin Shark Caught in Japan.”)

Carlson and colleagues are working on a paper describing this latest goblin shark sighting in the Gulf of Mexico, and are trying to figure out if there are hot spots for this animal around the world. The scientists aren’t sure whether goblin sharks are just more abundant around Japan or if the lopsided sightings are a consequence of uneven sampling by researchers.

To build his knowledge of goblin sharks, Carlson says, he would have loved to have seen the specimen Moore pulled up. But he’s glad that Moore was able to release it alive, to resume its mysterious life in the deep.

Follow Jane J. Lee on Twitter.

Jane J. Lee is a news writer and editor at National Geographic.
  • Richard J. Kajuth

    It is heartening to know that this commercial fisherman was caring and responsible enough to return this rare creature alive to its home and document its features so others may study it.

  • Derek

    anyone else notice the unnecessary death of other marine life on the deck of the boat??

  • eugene

    keep up the good work it is very educational

  • Celeste

    Pretty neat!

  • maty

    there shrimp you dummy!! its a shrimp boat

  • jonah

    cool shark its good they were able to return it to the ocean

  • Jennifer McDonald

    So glad they released it. If it is so rare, each individual is important to the survival of the overall species.

  • Kay raye

    Derek– no I did not

  • jayden

    that picture is scary to look at

  • Sarah Dowdy

    Man those things are ugly… Cool, but ugly

  • Ragin’ Redneck

    I’m thinkin’ it’s time to put together a PETA demonstration ! I wonder how that guy would like being dragged behind a boat trapped in a net ! Them poor shrimps and things all dead now ! Let’s all put on our DEM suits and PROTEST !! This guy would be much happier if he sold that boat and everything and just split that money up with us Po’ Folks !

  • Steve

    Maty don’t call Derek a dummy. It ‘s they are shrimp, not there shrimp.

  • Bilal

    It’s a wonderful effort to catch this fish.

  • Art Hodges

    It seems very unlikely that the shark would survive the barotrauma of being pulled up from a depth of 2000 feet.

  • MohMiro

    I guess others would have been thrilled to keep the price and yet others burning with anger for not having the opportunity to study more about this magnificent creature, hehehehe

  • Erica

    That shark looks hairy, doesn’t it?!?!

  • monilibik

    szörnyű micsoda mészárlás nagyon elítélem ! :((( de az oldal szuper sokat tanulok belőle 🙂

  • Carl

    The shark will already be dead, they should of took it back with them.

  • Katarzyna Petryszak

    Deep ocean animals will day anyway because of decompression:/ We should let them live

  • Luka

    Nice boots

  • biodude

    any chance this is just a genetically different hammerhead, a mutant of some kind. Is it already decomposed?

  • Cynthia

    @Derek. Yes. it was the first thing I noticed. Plus, they say he returned the shark to the ocean but that shark does not look very alive to me.

  • bigoneblessing

    it was very good of that fishermen to return the fish alive

  • Gem Dorjiee

    For me the shark does not seem to b alive … I don’t know if releasing a dead shark is smart … If it was dead it would have been valuable to scientist if it was not returned back into the water … In the second pic the shark looks pretty injured

  • rachel

    The “unnecessary deaths” of the marine life on the deck of the boat is more then likely going to be kept for consumers being that its a shrimp boat and all.

  • Elaine

    It looks dead to me!

  • Sadi Hamm

    Was wondering why it’s drown and not pinkish like the other pictures I’ve seen or like the description says.

  • isis

    Derek: This is an awesome educational article about a rare creature, if you didn’t see that or couldn’t appreciate it, that’s fine, but unless you are a true vegan that do not eat any type of meat and meat byproducts and you can attest that you do not have ANYTHING made out of leather, such as shoes, belts, jackets, furniture, car interiors, ect, or any clothing or blankets made out of wool or silk, or even feather pillows for that matter…. your comment meant nothing.

  • Al Espina

    It looks like the Kaijus from Pacific Rim, so cool !!!

  • Karlos

    After being brought up from that depth, do you really think it could survive? No way.

  • Jane J. Lee

    I’m not sure why this particular goblin shark looks more brown than pink. NOAA researcher John Carlson did mention that they’re usually pink.

    As for barotrauma, I asked about that. Carlson said that since goblin sharks don’t have swim bladders, that’s one less thing to worry about re getting pulled up from the depths too quickly.

    He said the fisher (Moore) described the shark as being very active on deck. Moore wanted to measure the shark, but because it was moving around so much and the teeth looked pretty scary, he didn’t want to approach the animal.

  • Tami

    I am curious what the implications are of bringing the shark from 2000 ft to the surface and then leaving it on deck long enough for staging and photos. Is it possible that it could survive those pressure changes and return to depth?

  • jose mendoza

    I think is dead

  • Rocky chaudhry

    love to see rare creatures .I hope this shark made it .

  • becca

    why do people kill inisint marine life?

  • anneli valgma

    This shark is not alive, why release a dead fish?

  • Ela Rand

    This shark is clearly dead and was not released alive.

  • Karen H.

    Jane- Please, are there any photos of this shark being released back into the ocean? Thank you.

  • suz

    The goblin Shark is dead.

  • Ernesto uribe

    Kill it with fire

  • Rodrigo Vargas

    It was caught in a shrimp boat, isn’t? That shark is really amazing and unique.

  • dan

    y’all act you’re marine biologists hahahaha….if it died they would probably keep it don’t you think???

  • dan

    …and that thing it a crazy looking fish! can’t wait to show pics to my g/f and freak her out!

  • charles bush

    that shark is weired

  • Carl Sagan

    I agree with many of you about the status of this shark: It’s dead, even before reaching the deck of the boat. Even if it could be alive for 1 or 3 minutes. The fisherman intentions maybe were good. He tried to release the shark on time. We can not be sure about it

  • Jane J. Lee

    @Karen H.

    I’m not sure if there are pictures of the shark being released back into the ocean. I’ve only seen a couple of the pictures that the NOAA researcher sent over, and none of them show the goblin shark back in the water.

  • Dr. Muhammad Al Rashed

    Since this Sharq is already dead it should be preserved for further studies on this unique specie. Additionally, extensive search on the same vicinity should be conducted.

  • Rohan Pokhriyal

    Living goblin sharks are a pinkish white color with bluish fins. Specimens fade and become brownish when preserved in alcohol. That shark was long dead.

  • W.Rodger Enfinger

    It’s amazing how many people believe that this Fisherman is lying. I choose to believe He or She Love what they do and are Faithful Stewarts of their craft; I Still have Faith that there are some of us that choose the Moral High Ground and I’m definitely not ashamed that I’m eating Shrimp & Grits for lunch. Hell Yea.!

  • Ursula

    This article states the shark was very alive when it was released!


  • Titus Thornber

    Looks dead hanging limply. Would shark suffocate to death in a shrimp net? With the late annoucement of the find, the ‘released it back’ story sounds like a cover to keep the shark; stuff and preserve it. Sell it on perhaps?

  • Lethabo Gololo

    Seeing animals in captivity or being killed just pains me.everyone is concerned about the goblin shark but not the shrimps, why are thy of less important.

  • e pedersen

    That looks like it is dead. Released? Really?

  • Mohamed

    This whole article is fishy :p pun not intended but seriously, i’m not a marine biologist but that shark looks dead, they release a rare dead shark that we no little about why? Now that would be a story

  • chase

    Who is teaching you all to read and write? Lol terrible spelling all over this thread

  • Joana

    I believe they released it back to the water. To those people looking for photos showing the release, sharks aren’t like dolphins, especially that goblin shark. The people who caught it weren’t like some of us who like to take pictures of everything (selfies as examples).

  • Graciela Hernández

    pobrecito me da mucha pena adoro los tiburones al igual que a todos los animales marinos es una lástima que se pesque de esa manera en lugar de continuar sólo con la pesca artesanal o cultivar los peces somos los peores seres que pudo generar la evolución me da mucha vergüenza pertenecer a la especie humana somos capases de los peores crímenes con todo tipo de ser viviente

  • Fitrah

    just like from the another planet

  • Fitrah

    the proof of alien
    that’s pretty cool

  • Arthur Smilios

    Why would you post this photo and promote the savagery of fishing? National Geographic seems to be stuck in the Teddy Roosevelt mode of “conservation,” wherein human brutality is presented as civilized. Shame on you. Please, come to the 21st Century.

  • John Mays

    First of all, the goblin shark is alive, just because it’s upside down, doesn’t mean that it’s dead. And it does not have ‘bright colors’ when it’s alive, it’s brown. There would be no point in a -2000 foot sea level predator, to be bright colors. And the reason why nobody cares about the shrimp, is because their lives don’t matter as much to us a bigger animal. They don’t have as much of an impact. They don’t know the difference between human and shark. Their is practically no soul leaving this earth, when it dies.

  • John Mays

    Don’t act like you know what you’re talking about,if you can’t even spell sharq, or inisint right. Show a little respect for the people who worked so damn hard at getting their facts right, natgeo is not the type of business that would get this stuff wrong.

  • Michael Tudman

    This responsible fisherman didn’t have to share this information with anybody, but he chose to record the data and report the interaction with an endangered species. Well done! With that in mind, if it was dead, it is logical to assume that the shark would have been put on ice for the researchers.

  • Vern

    They bring Squid up from the very deep and they live. So I think the Shark may have survived this. And for being in a net and drowning doubt it there is water going through the gills from the motion of the net being brought up!

  • Milan

    Cool i just love these animals

  • Cody

    Sharks and Skates are two animals that can survive the massive pressure changes from depths. meaning the shark was probably alive when it came up out of the water.

  • samia

    thats so amazing how they got it

  • marcelo

    Esta buena la foto…pero no entiendo nada de lo que dice… que paso con ese tiburón. .?

  • Cher

    I hope “she” did survive… Don’t deep water fish have issues, like the “Bends” when pulled up to sea level… ? From down deep? Their swim bladders?

  • Lethabo

    Strange how it could survive the pressure change.

  • …………….

    no way a GOBLIN SHARK ?! awesome

  • Yash Agrawal

    The shark appears dead!!!

  • ad

    Yes, a living being that was pulled up from 2000 feet under water is still alive and just swam right back down. Do people hear themselves talk? Do you realize the pressure change involved? The weight of water? Of course, the ones making these comments are the same ones who say hunting and fishing is bad. Why can’t you just buy your meat from the store and not participate in such savagery?

  • Bob martin

    back off. stop getting so mad about thinks. ever hear the saying “if you have nothing nice to say don’t say anything at all.

  • bushman maclain

    illuminati sucks they should stop playing games with us this shark was taken to NOAA

  • Tristan

    this is what I think:
    1.the shark is dead
    2.based on a previous comment from the author of this article there was no pics of the shark being released
    3.sharks are brown after being preserved in alcohol
    4.hanging sharks like that kills them

    its dead.

  • Jesse Miranda

    I agree that Shark is long gone. Not only did that idiot hang it upside down ( who wouldn’t that kill?) but he also caught it in a fishing net. So common logic will tell you that the shark was immobile for some part of time which means death for a shark. and sorry but if you caught something that rare. Would you catch and release? I think not.

  • kayli

    THATS one crazy shark,Becuaes you don’t a goblin half shark all the time.

  • jamie griffin

    Yes obviously he released an already dead shark, funny how they kind of covered up that bit.

  • Ryan Dogfin

    Its just another shark out of the sea big deal.

  • joe obvious

    O/T. Gotta love his little booties. To whether the shark was alive or dead when released th world may never kno. Now if you’ll xcuse me my steak dinner complete with side of baby seal is ready. Ok I jest about the baby seal but the ‘outrage’ over the death of the shark is pathetic considering the number of things killed on your behalf daily, including clothing, food, makeup, etc..

  • Jay

    it should be called an Alien shark, or Area 51 Shark, maybe it looks dead in the picture because it never had its picture taken before, and give the fisherman a break, he is hunting shrimp not Goblins.

  • cheng pingyang

    there is another world we need to explore,to understand.as for time,cosmos,our planet,we couldnt claim to be giant creatures.and i suspect that it is a bad phenomenon that this kind of shark live swallower than before.global warm?less food supplies?a little worried

  • cheng pingyang

    i suspect that it is a bad phenomenon that this kind of shark live swallower than before.global warm?less food supplies?a little worried

  • Chelsey Tisdale

    Recent subscriber to nat geo i love it! & guys lay off hes a fisherman not a shark hunter it was an unintended discovery. on the other hand just furthers my fear of the ocean lol too much unkown too many scary possibilities!!

  • Isabella kohloff


  • Amber G.

    They said this type of shark is still rare, what’s the color matter? We don’t have all the facts on this type of shark yet. Why accuse this man of killing a rare breed shark? I’m pretty positive if the shark was dead they would have kept it, maybe make money off it, maybe have an article written about them catching the shark in Nat geo. Endless possibilities of what they could have done with the rare shark breed. But instead, he released it. The shark was probably stunned that it got dragged up in a net. Just because a still picture doesn’t show the sharks movements, it doesn’t mean it’s dead.

  • Shelly Ashley

    Ryan Dogfin is right!!!!!!!

  • John Russell

    The sharks had become so aggressive she had to get out of the water…………
    The Florida Dive boat operators were trying to skirt the regulations. Read about the investigation that led to their arrests. Protect and save sharks and divers. http://chn.ge/1lyxhtG

  • Mercedes

    Clearly the sharks intestines would have fallen out of his mouth when they put it upside down. The shark is dead, another piece of by-catch.

  • rick

    cool are there any more

  • olatise henry

    sharks and most fish are known to blend with their environment ,the brown color doesnt meant the goblin is dead but keeping it out of water for a long while without keeping it wet will make it lose its slime and surely die. even if it doesnt die immediately,it would be prone to infections.Moreover,hanging it upside down would kill it within a short while.

  • stephanie

    How about we leave the deep sea critters alone? Maybe ocean pollution is causing them to come up too far.

  • gavin camera


  • Da Durp King

    People, ITZ ALIVE

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