I know I say this for a lot of the animals I blog about, but I really like the name of this one. I mean, megamouth shark? How does that not sound like the most epic shark ever? It actually would make a pretty good monster truck name. Just picture that guy from all those commercials with that ridiculous deep and echoing voice, saying ‘megamouth shark’. You see a monster truck, right? If you don’t, there might be something wrong you.
The megamouth shark, contrary to what the name might suggest, is not a fearsome man-eating animal. In fact, like most of the biggest animals in the ocean, the megamouth shark is a filter feeder. It opens its megamouth wide and sucks in water, and special plates catch plankton and jellyfish which the shark then eats.
The shark is notable for its large rubbery lips and huge mouth (what a surprise). A megamouth’s mouth can reach the mega size of 1.3m wide. The sharks themselves grow up to 5.5m, which is pretty large. One interesting thing about the megamouth shark is that its mouth is surrounded by photophores, which serve to attract small fish and plankton into its jaws. The megamouth is a deepwater shark, so the photophores probably stand out fairly well in the dark depths of the sea.
These sharks are extremely rare; the first known specimen was only discovered in 1976. The poor shark got tangled in a US naval ship’s anchor, and when it was examined by scientists, it was clear this shark was completely different from every other known shark. In fact, the megamouth shark is so different from any other shark that currently it is classified in its own family, Megachasmidae. Only 55 of these sharks have been caught or identified, as of 2012. That’s not a whole lot for an entire species, that spans the almost the entire globe (they have been found in the Indian, Pacific and Atlantic oceans).
There isn’t much more I can say about the megamouth shark – 55 specimens isn’t a whole lot to go on. But what I will say is that this shark is one weird looking shark. They look like a child’s rendition of a shark, but without the giant teeth. Here’s a picture to show you:
The megamouth shark is truly proof of how vast and unexplored our oceans are. Despite all our undersea exploits and research efforts we were only able to find this creature less than 40 years ago. And even though we now know they exist, we’ve still only managed to find 55 of them. It makes me wonder what else could live in the bowels of the ocean. Maybe a kraken? Or a giant sea serpent? Cthulhu? All would be pretty awesome.
Update: As of March 2018, 99 Megamouth sharks have been spotted or caught. I’ll leave the old numbers in the post because I think it’s cool to see them evolve over time!