The ghost shark mostly lives in deep water environments and is rare to see. The species is thought to originate around 420 million years ago in the Silurian period. They are closely related to sharks, skates, and rays, according to the Shark Trust. But, around 400 million years ago, they diverged from their common ancestor. To date, it’s believed that there are around 50 species of chimera around the world. 

Of the many species of chimera, some of those most commonly recorded are: 

  • Rabbitfish
  • Pale Chimaera
  • Smallspine Spookfish
  • Small-eyed Rabbitfish
  • Large-eyed Rabbitfish

The first, the Rabbitfish, can be found ground around the North Atlantic. But, others, like the Galapagos Ghostshark, are confined to smaller regions (such as only in the Galapagos Islands), according to Shark Trust. 

Ghost Shark Appearance 

Ghost sharks have a very interesting appearance. Their soft tapering bodies include a bulky head with a one-gill opening. They can grow to almost five feet in length, including their long tails. (Although these tails are confined to only certain members of their species.)

Their skeletons are made of cartilage, and their skin is smooth, without scales. Most of the time, they range in color from black to gray. 

One of the shark’s most interesting features is its venomous spin in front of the dorsal fin. These spines are common to most chimeras. 

Chimera deep underwater
They closely resemble sharks

Some closely resemble sharks, especially in their means of reproduction. They use “claspers” to internally fertilize female members of their species. They can also use something known as electroreception to find their prey. This is a process by which a fish is able to detect electrical stimuli. It is used for electrolocation and for electrocommunication. 

Unlike sharks, their upper jaws are attached to their skulls. They also have different teeth. Sharks are well-known for their ability to replace their teeth throughout their life. Chimeras, on the other hand, have their pairs of long tooth plates that they use for grinding. 

Ghost Shark Habitat 

Ghost sharks prefer to live in temperate ocean environments, near the ocean floor, at depths of around 8,500 feet or 2,600 meters. There have been some instances in which scientists have confirmed sightings of ghost sharks at shallower depths, around 200 meters or 660 feet. For some species of chimera, it’s a more common occurrence to live and feed around this depth. 

Chimeras live in all the oceans except the Arctic and the Antarctic. It’s common to find them around volcanic areas and in soft sandy, and muddy areas. 

Ghost Shark Reproduction 

Little is known about chimera reproduction. But, it’s believed that they’re common to sharks in the way that they fertilize eggs and the leathery cases the eggs are laid in. Male members of the order have retractable appendages. 

Hydrolagus affinis
Hydrolagus affinis

It’s likely that chimeras can live to around 30 years, with some studies suggesting longer. They reach sexual maturity fairly late in life and only give birth to a few young, according to Shark Trust. These things mean that threats to chimeras are increasingly critical. 

Ghost Shark Threats 

Ghost sharks are subject to several different parasites. These include chimaericola leptogaster, a parasite that lives in their gills.

Today, it’s believed that chimeras are threatened. There is not a great deal of information available about the species in general, mostly due to the depths they live at and overall scarcity. But, some studies have suggested that 8% of chimera species are threatened. There are currently 50 extant species. Some are only known from fossils. 

There are only a few fisheries that target chimeras, mostly due to trawling. They can be a product of bycatch. This means that they’ve been caught in a net along with other marine creatures that fishermen are seeking out. 

Chimaera monstrosa
Chimaera monstrosa

Chimera vs Shark 

  • Chimera have a jaw that’s fused to their skull. 
  • One external opening for their gills
  • Grinding tooth plates rather than sharp, replaceable teeth. 

Chimera in Mythology 

The term “chimera” is perhaps best known through its association with Greek mythology. It’s described as a large, fire-breathing creature that’s a hybrid of a lion with the head of a goat protruding from its back and a tail that sometimes ends with a snake’s head. 

Image of a chimera from Greek mythology
Image of a chimera from Greek mythology

The term is also sometimes used to describe other monstrous and mythological creatures that are made up of different animal parts—for example, a creature made out of other animals like a goat, tiger, or monkey. 

Facts about Ghost Sharks 

  • The ghost shark is a common name for species of chimaera. 
  • The term “chimera” is famously used to describe a mythological creature. 
  • Chimaeras live in all the oceans except the Arctic and the Antarctic.
  • They are also sometimes referred to as “rat fish” or “rabbit fish.”
  • They can grow to almost five feet of oil length, including their long tails.


Why are they called ghost sharks?

They’re called ghost sharks due to their coloring and general appearance. They resemble sharks in some ways but aren’t sharks. The shape of their heads is one of the major reasons they’ve been given the common name “ghost shark.” 

Are ghost sharks real?

Yes, ghost sharks are real. They live in almost all the world’s oceans and prefer, generally, to live at depths of around 8,000 feet.

 Is a ghost shark a shark?

No, a ghost shark is not a shark. They’re chimeras, or slender-bodied fish that live deep in the ocean. 

Can you have a ghost shark as a pet?

No. You can’t keep a ghost shark as a pet. They require a very specific environment that is very difficult to produce within someone’s home. 

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