There are some fairly well-known facts about these sharks that are worth knowing. Scientists have recorded these sharks around ninety-nine times. But, it’s very likely that more encounters that have gone unrecorded have occurred. They’ve been spotted around the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic Oceans.
The first megamouth shark was captured in 1976 off the coast of Hawaii. It had become entangled in a U.S. Navy sea anchor. There has been debate in regard to the genus of the shark or how it relates to other shark families. It may be monophyletic, meaning that it only has one relative (the basking shark). Other scientists have suggested that it’s related to the mako, white, and thresher sharks.
These sharks are best known for their very large mouths and small teeth. These, set within a bulbous head, give the sharks a very distinctive appearance.
Megamouth Shark Appearance
Megamouth sharks have stout bodies and bulbous heads. Their mouths, for which they’re named, are broad and extend behind their eyes. They’re incredibly easy to recognize, part of the reason why they have captured the public’s imagination. They are blackish-brown in color, with paler sections on their undersides around between their eyes. The studied specimens have silver membranes on the roof of their mouths and a purplish-brown tongue. It’s thought that a white band around the snout is used to attract prey or may be a way of recognizing individuals.
It was initially thought that this light-colored band might be phosphorescent. But, that has since been proven untrue. It is only highly reflective. Recorded specimens have reached a maximum size of around 17 feet or 550 centimeters. It’s been reported that sharks can with up to 1,215 kg or 2,679 lb.
The megamouth shark has fifty rows of teeth on each jaw. Three of these rows are practically functional. Their mouths can reach up to 1.3 m or 4 ft 3 inches in width.
The megamouth is quite different in appearance from other sharks, so much so that, as noted above, some scientists believe that it’s part of its own family, Megachasmidae. Or that it might be a part of the Cetorhinidae family, of which the basking shark is the only member.
Megamouth Shark Diet
It’s unclear exactly how megamouth sharks feed. Scientists have had few opportunities to study this behavior. But, they believe that the sharks swim slowly after their prey and use their large mouths to trap prey inside. The mouth closes, and with the jaw retracted, the prey can’t escape.
Megamouth sharks are filter feeders. They will eat anything from shrimp to jellyfish, copepods, and more. Scientists believe that euphausiids are their primary food source.
Megamouth Shark Habitat
The megamouth shark lives in the upper portion of the open ocean. According to the Florida Museum, one specimen that was tagged and tracked varied its diving depths depending on the time of day. For example, it dove t around 160 meters or 520 feet at dawn before surfacing and returning to shallower waters at night.
They’ve been found around in different oceans, from northern Japan to southern California and as far south as Hawaii, and up to depths of 1,000 meters or 3,280 feet. The majority of sharks captured or discovered have been around Japan and the Philippines. Taiwan has been the source of several sharks as well.
Megamouth Shark Reproduction
Like their feeding habits, more information is needed to fully understand the megamouth’s reproduction. They mature around the age of two and are thought to mate around the fall. There may be some evidence that the mating process can turn violent. It’s believed these sharks are ovoviviparous. This means that the sharks develop in eggs within the mother’s body and remain there until they hatch.
Megamouth Shark Threats
Since there are few examples of megamouth sharks being observed throughout scientific history, there is also little information about their threats. The IUCN lists them as “least concern,” suggesting that they are not commonly affected by humanity’s intrusion on the ocean, climate change, or fishing practices. Their natural predators include sperm whales and other larger whales. Florida Museum also notes that they may be attacked by the cookiecutter shark, a small shark that attaches to pretty and removes small pieces of flesh. It’s a parasitic shark, evidence of which has been seen on all megamouth specimens.
Facts Abut the Megamouth Shark
- The first megamouth shark was captured in 1976.
- It may belong to its own family, separate from all living sharks.
- They swim with their mouths open to capture fish and other prey.
- Their mouths extend behind their eyes.
- Megamouth sharks look very different from all other living sharks.
- A juvenile male was captured in 2018 in the Philippines.
- Four megamouth sharks were captured in 2017, in the Philippines, Japan, and Indonesia.
Is the megamouth shark still alive?
While it is rarely seen by humans, the megamouth shark is still alive. Over the course of recorded history, the shark has been spotted ninety-nine times (Although scientists believe that there are more unrecorded instances).
Which shark is the weirdest?
Some have cited the megamouth shark as the “weirdest” shark species. But, others have suggested that the Goblin shark, sometimes referred to as a “living fossil,” is the strangest.
Why are megamouth sharks rare?
It’s thought to be naturally rare and not as a result of overfishing. Although, the sharks are sometimes caught in fishing nets and sold.
What eats a megamouth shark?
The shark’s main predators include other sharks, whales, and orcas. Although little is known about these sharks in general, so there are likely other predators.
How old do megamouth sharks get?
It’s unclear how old megamouth sharks get due to the general lack of information about their lives. But, if they are similar to other sharks, they live between twenty and thirty years.
Featured image credit: Wikicommons