Rare Megamouth Shark Caught Off Japan’s Coast

Fishers recently captured a rare megamouth shark, similar to the one depicted in the image above, off the coast of Japan. Photograph by Natural History Museum and Institute/Reuters

It’s been a banner month for rare shark sightings. Last week a fisher off the coast of Florida caught the second goblin shark ever seen in the Gulf of Mexico. Now reports out of Japan state that fishers have caught a 13-foot (3.9 meter) long megamouth shark, also incredibly rare, near Shizuoka, Japan (map)

This is only the 55th confirmed megamouth shark sighting since the first one was accidentally caught by a U.S. Navy research vessel off the coast of Oahu, Hawaii, in 1976. There have been several other dubious megamouth reports, says George Burgess, director of the Florida Program for Shark Research at the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville. But since researchers couldn’t confirm those sightings, Burgess considers the tally to stand at 55, including this week’s haul.


Staff at the Marine Science Museum in Shizuoka dissected the reportedly 1,500 pound (680 kilogram) megamouth (Megachasma pelagios) in a public presentation earlier this week (seen in the tweet above). The shark’s remains are on display at the museum, according to the Japan Daily Press. Fishers captured this female specimen in about 2,600 feet (792 meters) of water. (Watch video of the dissection.)

A Big Mouth

The megamouth shark’s most prominent feature is its large mouth—hence its common name. The animal uses its giant maw for filter feeding, much as whale sharks and basking sharks cruise the ocean with their mouths open, straining tiny animals called plankton out of the water, says Burgess. Small, shrimp-like animals called krill are believed to make up a large portion of the megamouth’s diet.

Records of the shark’s behavior come from observations of only two individuals. Researchers were able to affix a tag to one megamouth shark off the coast of California in 1990 and track it for two days. The male shark spent its days in 492 feet (150 meters) of water, ascending to 49 feet (15 meters) at dusk. This daily pattern of migrating up and down in the water is fairly common for open ocean animals of all sizes, says Burgess. The creatures are following food, he explains, as well as spending time in different water temperatures to maintain bodily functions like digestion or growth.

The second megamouth researchers observed was in the process of getting attacked by three sperm whales off the coast of Indonesia in 1998, according to the Florida Museum of Natural History.

The megamouth’s slow swimming speed and flabby body also make it an attractive target for other opportunists in addition to whales, such as the cookiecutter shark, Burgess says. This small shark sneaks up on animals in order to bite off chunks of flesh, leaving a crater-shaped divot behind. Some megamouths that have been examined showed evidence of scarring believed to be the result of attention from cookiecutter sharks.

A Hot Spot?

Although megamouth sharks have been found all over the world, “the area from Japan down through the Philippines and into Indonesia seems to be a hot spot,” says Burgess. This could be because the sharks are naturally abundant there, or it could be simply that, because the area is heavily fished, people are more likely to encounter a megamouth here.

Burgess’s opinion? “I think the reality,” he says, is that it’s “an area of abundance.” This part of the western Pacific Ocean, from northern Australia up to the Philippines, is thought by some researchers to be a cradle of evolution for marine animals. It’s “an absolute honey hole of diversity,” he adds, and it could be the place of origin for the megamouths.

With every megamouth shark that comes to light, scientists learn more and more about this mysterious animal. Burgess just wishes most of the sharks didn’t end up dead.

“It’s a win-lose situation,” he says. “We’re happy to get another individual to study and add to our knowledge base—but regrettably, we’ve gotten to the point where we’re killing these things.” All but one or two megamouths were dead by the time scientists got to study them.

“Much as I would love to have a sample size of 200 or 300 of these [sharks],” Burgess says, “we want to encourage fishermen to send them back overboard and just take a picture of them.”

Follow Jane J. Lee on Twitter.

Jane J. Lee is a news writer and editor at National Geographic.
  • Mike Smith

    The Japanese continue to over fish and kill anything they don’t need.

  • Eco Friendly

    If our goal is to kill every species on the planet, killing super rare sharks until they are extint is a good way to start.


  • Aaron

    How long do you think before megamouth shark will be in every Japanese and Chinese menu?

  • c.a.c

    Why is it that when the US generally catches a ‘rare shark’ or fish, like the goblin shark in FL, they put it back, and when the Japanese catch a rare shark, like this one any many others, they kill it? Many whales and dolphins too…

  • John B. Cary

    Past history has shown that there have been sightings of megamouth sharks a few days before a Godzilla attack on a major coastal city.

  • Rare

    Great “Rare Shark” so what do the humans do? Kill it! Way to go!

  • Concerned

    Wow, isn’t that neat the rare shark they killed. It’s just about as neat as the other super rare animal those other guys killed… Nice article NG. Your earning your pages of oil, chemical, and pharma ads by showing your true stripes. NG = Pretty pictures for small minds.

  • ray lkoving

    Why do we have to kill everything alive on this planet. The more rare it is, the more we seek to kill it to take a picture of it.

  • Angry

    Isn’t it “cool” how when we over fish the oceans, all of the rare species have to go outside their normal habitat for food.

    Maybe a scientist can invent a fish that eats plastic.

  • Martin

    My 8 year-old just asked after reading the article, “why do people always kill things if they are so rare?” Good point. I had no answer.

  • Dr REL

    “Oh look! Something unusual! Let’s kill it!”

  • Paul

    Poor Mick Jagger

  • Aleah Benson

    How many are still left in the wild.Incredible picture!

  • Andrew Booth

    Where have these strange terms ‘fisher’ and ‘fishers’ come from? Fishermen is the usual term used here.

  • Sean Nolan

    megamouth shark will be supplementing the whalemeat in Japan soon!

  • i hate you all

    you are horrible people.i get it you want knowledge thats great and all but killing an animal to do it is a horrible thing .just because you say that you dont want anyone to capture them doesnt mean that you dont. Honestly thats just like aliens envading our planet and then taking your child because they want to know more about it. so next time you murdering people are experimenting on a live animal or you take an animal from its home think about your child getting kidnapped

  • Walt

    Why do the Japanese insist on killing everything? For a country without a true Army, they are extremely graphic towards animals.

    It is disgusting.

  • Dave Musgrave

    Certainly is a lot of uninformed opinion and blatant racism against the Japanese on this comment board…

  • luciano

    Humans kills everything they need and dont need, they just to be superior, dont want to understand the meeaning of balance in tthis planet .
    in cape verde they kill thousannds of sharks every year,, betwen chinese,japanese and spnaish boats it is a real disaster , SOS green peace ,please

  • slap happy

    Hey… We get it. You all are upset. Do something if you don’t like it! Posting your disapproval on this website doesn’t mean anything!


  • Safwan JE

    Imam Ali (AS): People are enemies of that which they do not know.

  • Ima Ryma

    Just once in my watery life,
    I came in contact with life form,
    Humans – well known to cause such strife,
    Avoiding humans is the norm.
    Got caught up in a fishing net,
    Down southern California way.
    First megamouth shark captured yet,
    I did not have too much to say.
    They stuck a radio on me
    To transmit that real deep I go,
    So humans and I rarely see
    Each other for long – doncha know!

    Humans consume the world and all,
    And their mouths are so very small.

  • Michael

    And now they’re even rarer.

  • Mick Pearmain

    Well done now this Shark is even rarer.

  • ajain

    why to kill the rarest one

  • sharlin benitez

    claro matar a un tiburon super extraño y único es la solución para saber mas de él como no lo había pensado antes

  • mauro

    First: kill…. then, maybe, think…. 🙁

  • ThinkbeforeyouType

    Ignorance is bliss.

    Most likely when they caught it, it was already dead or dying.

    It’s not likely that when they fishing they said, “Oh, let’s hope we get a Megamouth today! I’m dying to kill one of those!”
    You idiots.

    So they didn’t put it back into the ocean to let it rot, the put it in a museum. That’s why they said that it was a win-lose situation. For the love of God, did you people even read the article before getting all mad?

  • Adam Ellison

    Why did they have to kill it?

  • Disheartened

    What is wrong with us!?
    Or more so “THEM” the thing is Rare and what do you do? Kill it.
    Just brilliant, so intelligent and smart of you….. IDIOTS!

    The earth is here for us all to share, but no the smartest most intelligent species on the planet is certain to destroy the lot and leave a barren rubbish tip. Our great great grandchildren will be so proud!

  • Pauline Bunner

    Evidence once again of Man’s determination to kill anything and everything. One day, people will wake up and only hear the sound of silence! No Animals/birds/wildlife etc. etc. This Shark should haveen released back into the deep.

  • Vijay Ratna Shakya

    All the Scientists were the Criminal. Once they saw any things they try to preserve it not by taking it in their own state, they k ul lled it as specimen…

  • Pippa Clayton

    How lucky that the cradle of evolution for marine life is situated next to these countries that have no intention of protecting it!! They are clearly not in abundance with so little sightings so why say that? Disgusted once again by this country

  • Natasha Silva

    Please, please … Catch & Release. We should do our utmost best to respect all forms of Life.

  • Paul Andrews

    Ah,, That’s odd.. Must be rare… I know, Let’s kill it… Bloody People…

  • romeo f. pilola

    I may be way off tangent, but may we consider the ocean nuclear/atomic experimental explosion a factor to these radioactive-related abnormalities among our marine animals???

  • Jan Koel

    And ofcourse, since it is so rare we have to catch it. Perhaps it helps to boost your sexlife! Not strange that it has been caught by the Japanese.

  • rebecca

    Every time I see a picture of a rare creature we killed, I believe a little more in unicorns.

  • Lisa

    Even rarer now that they’ve killed one. Needless and cruel.. I’m embarrassed that humans behave so badly.

  • David

    These people are stupid. Why kill this animal? Human’s are so cruel. Just leave animals alone.

  • VSSinger

    It’s Rare so you kill it! What for? Obviously, to KEEP it Rare and to say Japan participated in the extinction. #Shame

  • Felipe

    It’s amazing how the Japanese kill ever ting. Like whales and rare fishes.

  • Ramsey

    Shouldn’t National Geographic be covering the epidemic of needlessly killing rare animals for show? While the animal is rare, I would hope that nat geo cover rare animals in their natural habitat, alive, and not bloody in the hands of hunters.

  • aman


  • Kate

    Why do an article on a dead fish. I was excited thinking NG had put on a tracking device and marine biologists would continue to gove us updates. Not some bloody mass of an endangered species. Very Upset!!!

  • jim

    That’s right.. the rare shark was discovered to be there and they killed it! You dirty rats!

  • You Yamada

    Once the deep-sea fish rise near the surface of the sea, they can’t live anymore, even if you free it to the sea.

  • bulent kıraz

    This can be hellish world of humanity

  • Rachel mccoy

    I really hope their breeding ground is not off the the coast of Japan somewhere or they are screwed! Get your crap together Japan

  • Arvin Divino

    It’s RARE Shark and need to kill it for study??
    What’s wrong with you people.

  • hüseyin

    keşke bizim karadenizde bu balıklarda yaşasa

  • joe

    because killing rare things is what we are good at in japan

  • Jaskirat Singh Nagra

    So you find something rare … You kill it. What good does it do to anyone.

  • ishmael jolofan

    That thing is rare, why killing such a precious shark, it will soon be extinct, does that make sense?

  • Laura Norris

    Most species wouldn’t be so rare if they were left in the sea long enough to reproduce!

  • Benua Carles

    How long from rare to disappeared?

  • MTR EC

    Why keep killing for no reason except to promote their own agendas and make money? These disgusting people are the same type that kill our precious species and are destroying our earth – rhino horn for impotence or a gorilla’s hand for an ashtray or let’s kill dolphins by trapping them in a cove – barbarians were more civilized. National Geographic really should not show this as a scientific discovery but as a senseless act of violence.

  • Karen Stevens

    Once again something rare and we go and KILL it. We dont deserve to live among any other species on this planet..

  • C

    Stop killing animals for your own agenda! National Geographic, by showing this you are just giving the people what they want: publicity!

  • Emma De Leon

    Pero en Japon matan todo, como la masacre de delfines en Tiaji junto con la CIB que masacra ballenas, osea hasta cuando las instacias internacionales van a intervenir y poner un alto

  • MMJ

    The following was so well put (along with others on this thread) that I will simply repost as my protest and request for NG to report these actions as the horrors they are. Thank you, MTR EC.
    MTR EC
    United States
    9:00 am

    Why keep killing for no reason except to promote their own agendas and make money? These disgusting people are the same type that kill our precious species and are destroying our earth – rhino horn for impotence or a gorilla’s hand for an ashtray or let’s kill dolphins by trapping them in a cove – barbarians were more civilized. National Geographic really should not show this as a scientific discovery but as a senseless act of violence.

  • Tina W

    People should read the story again. The shark was dead when they got it. It wasn’t national geographic. They didn’t decided oh hey its a super rare shark let’s not let it go and just kill it……it was caught by fishers and more than likely died being pulled to the surface so quickly. Or just simple got caught in a net.

  • Avi gurung

    Stop it there nothing we call research by killing it is just killing and killng -_-

  • Unknown

    Maybe I’m stupid but where does it say they killed it? Wasn’t it already dead?

  • Greenscene

    Nice of you to do what humans will do kill then talk about how great you are. What a waste of life.

  • Tanner

    Everyone of y’all postin on here obviously didn’t read because it says it died and would much rather of had it put back to sea .On the the other hand y’all are all bunny hungers what happens when animals get overpopulated and start killing humans what are you gonna say that’s part of life not you have to kill to keep control of the population .This shark couldn’t have been put back once a shark is brang out of the sea it most likely dies and they didn’t set out to catch this shark either I’m sure they were fishing for tuna .Before y’all start blaming people that kills animals might wanna thank them because animals will humans they are not innocent all the time

  • Justin L

    Another death of a majestic creature in the name of Japanese “research.” I’m sure the dorsal fin of a Megamouth shark fetched a hefty price for the key ingredient in an ultra-rare preparation of shark fin soup…

  • Mia O’ Connell

    Beautiful shark. They are so cool. It’s a pity that it was killed. I wish people would stop hunting sharks. They’re upsetting the ecosystems by over fishing. And now they’re going and killing the sharks that are rare and that they won’t even eat.

  • Tyroil Smoochie-Wallace

    Are some of you people actually able to read and properly comprehend the article.
    1) The shark was ACCIDENTALLY caught by a US Navy research vessel.
    2) National Geographic had nothing to do with this other than report it.
    3) Although not in the article, this shark is mesoplegiac and when surfaced, it is extremely rare that they can be returned to the ocean since their bodies are designed for much higher pressures than at the surface.

  • Ann

    So….if it is rare why do you kill them? Seems to me they should be saved. Is there honor in killing everything in your path?? I thought the Japanese were all about honor?? Oh no…..that’s not right, I’m thinking of someone else……

  • Junaid Waheed

    The article does not state that the Japanese has the intention to catch this rare shark. Most probably its by accident. Catching this big fish is also not good for the fisherman, actually it can be a loss for the business.

    Anyway, good work NG and JJL. Keep up the good work.

  • alex

    Why are yankees talking about how japanesse killed the shark if their country killed more people in the whole world by the culture diferences? It isnt that worst than this?

  • mike

    Dear N.G.,
    Thank you for reporting this story. I learned something today and I want to thank you for that. Please, as always, keep me posted on more interesting things that are found in this world. I have known about the mega mouth shark since I was a kid and I am determined to learn more. Keep these great articles coming!
    Capt. Mike Miele

  • vince

    It is qhite a find the megamoth should be put on the indangerd spiecies list to preserve them for our futur kids they are intregine sharks

  • Jill

    I see most of the horrible, racist things being said on this article are people from the USA . . . it makes me ashamed of how unintelligent my country is, how quick we are to judge someone without first looking at ALL the facts . . . Those who have actually read and understood the article know the shark was not killed on purpose!!!!! I am very sorry, Japan, for all of the awful things my countrymen are saying about you. I know you are a nation with few natural resources, fishing being among them. Please understand that most of us Americans are very ignorant and spoiled, and will often take our stupidity to the internet. Again, please accept my humble apology.

    An American

  • Badx_xkitty

    This is post is truly disappointing; it is disheartening. Why kill a “rare” shark? “For the sake of entertainment” this living creature was captured and killed; Ending all the wonder and beauty it posses to be nothing more than a lifeless carcass. . .

  • smiley

    What a bunch of arrogant losers that don’t know how to read if u don’t understand the article don’t comment on it people like mtr needs to wake up and learn how to read I read the whole article it stated that they would rather of kept it alive then dead to the people who did read and agree that a deep water shark or fish can’t survive on the surface there for all those people that didn’t read the article don’t bother commenting on the article

  • sandra mar

    Los Animales merecen nuestro respeto y no me parece la forma mostrar un ejemplar creo que nos pueden decir mas si se estudian en su habitat y porsupuesto VIVOS!

  • John

    I see that Americans managed to shoot the first grey wolf that has appeared in Iowa since 1925. They are hardly model conservationists – just ask any buffalo.

  • J

    For everyone who hasn’t noticed(if you did good) it was dead when they were caught it. Either that or i’m dumb. I prefer to think the first possibility.

  • Steve

    Don’t apologize to the Japanese for Americans, or anyone else for that matter, being pissed for the ignorance of a selfish fisherman. The Japanese are notorious for killing sharks and whales to the brink of extinction. It’s not racist when it’s a fact that their culture prizes endangered animals as a delicacy or medicinal benefactor. People are too sensitive about offending other people and not sensitive enough on the topic of humans, of every race, decimating other species and their habitats.

  • Carla Delange

    They were fishing at 800 metres depth??? Is this usual? What do you fish for at this depth? Certainly you will bring up unusual things from this depth, not your typical fish we eat day to day.

  • kanishka pandey

    stupid now make it more rarer

  • bob

    always wanted to try shark steak. I heard it was great! I guess I am going to Japan lol

  • bob

    dear kanishka pandey rarer is not a word fyi lol I love these random comment boxes even though it doesnt matter what any of you people say you just post and post and post like you are going to change something by typing it all up and giving someone a good “talking to”. It is so funny. all this over animals none the less. You all should be ashamed in yourselves and start taking up for people like this!

  • Chesse buger

    That’s not a shark that is a fish that doesn’t look like he wants to be harmed it looks like a domesticated fish

  • mark p

    ok to everyone writing here you are all right but we are all guilty and not just for this disgrace but for many others like world war where we slaughtered each other for the gain of things we’ve never seen and was never able to see the millions and millions on all sides that died doing what they believed was the right thing to do. or the countless millions of acres that we all keep destroying to accommodate our needs and wants. or anything that can make an unlimited amount of money is some how ok to do now but would never had been allowed say 50 years ago. so i am going to tell all of you what the real problem is #1 is greed and the reason for this is that our planet is so over populated that a multitude of people have taken on the attitude of (im going to get mine before some one else does).and then there is the desensitization to our children of thing that they by rights should be afraid of and are not anymore.this would go along with the idea of banning bugs bunny and the road runner because its to violent and putting out game that teach you how to kill. our economy is suffering because of our population and with more people comes the very thing we do not like to see but we are going to as long as the worlds population grows as fast as it is. its really no ones fault unless we refuse to see the truth and do not do anything about it and that does not mean fighting arguing or threatening. there is no fix for any of this until we fix us. until we actually start fixing the obvious and then we will be able to let the sea creatures of this planet multiply and forest grow back. its up to us we are destroying it and we are the only creatures of this planet that can fix it. thank you

  • yoyomama

    Der fish was already dead. Read.

  • chick magnet

    The Japanese, as a people are not evil poachers. Neither are we.

  • Ollie orvis


  • marc

    It was swimming enjoying itself before human intervention at over 2600 ft deep just as in most of the sightingsd of them especially in asia it ended up dead to be sold as meat for huge profits.

    They did kill it read here and i quote the story above

    “Burgess just wishes most of the sharks didn’t end up dead.”

    “It’s a win-lose situation,” he says. “We’re happy to get another individual to study and add to our knowledge base—but regrettably, we’ve gotten to the point where we’re killing these things.” All but one or two megamouths were dead by the time scientists got to study them.

    “Much as I would love to have a sample size of 200 or 300 of these [sharks],” Burgess says, “we want to encourage fishermen to send them back overboard and just take a picture of them.”

About the Blog

Researchers, conservationists, and others share stories, insights and ideas about Our Changing Planet, Wildlife & Wild Spaces, and The Human Journey. More than 50,000 comments have been added to 10,000 posts. Explore the list alongside to dive deeper into some of the most popular categories of the National Geographic Society’s conversation platform Voices.

Opinions are those of the blogger and/or the blogger’s organization, and not necessarily those of the National Geographic Society. Posters of blogs and comments are required to observe National Geographic’s community rules and other terms of service.

Voices director: David Braun (dbraun@ngs.org)

Social Media