A half-blind shark usually found in freezing Arctic waters, where scientists say their lifespans can surpass 500 years, was recently discovered in the Caribbean, according to Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium.
Devanshi Kasana, a Ph.D. candidate at the Florida International University, was working with local fishermen in Belize to tag tiger sharks when the team encountered something they had never seen before.
As the team did a last check of their fishing lines, they found something that they weren’t expecting.
“On the other end of one, wasn’t a tiger shark, but a rather sluggish creature. It looked old — ancient, even — and more like an elongated, smooth stone that had sprung to life, according to an FIU news release. “It had a blunt snout and small pale bluish colored eyes. All together, these clues led scientists to think it was a member of the sleeper shark family.”
“I knew it was something unusual and so did the fishers, who hadn’t ever seen anything quite like it in all their combined years of fishing,” Kasana recalled.
After some back and forth with several Greenland shark experts, it was confirmed to be in the sleeper shark family, and likely a Greenland shark or a hybrid between the Greenland shark and Pacific sleeper shark.
Mote said Greenland sharks remain somewhat of an enigma to scientists.
“What is known about them is they tend to be seen in the frigid waters of the Arctic and North Atlantic oceans,” the laboratory and aquarium said in a news release. “The slow-moving species is also slow growing.”
Scientists said the species has been estimated to live at least 250 years, but may live more than 500 years, earning them the designation of the longest-living vertebrate known to science.
“Because little is known about them, that means nothing can be definitively ruled out about the species, Mote added. “Greenland sharks could possibly be trolling the depths of the ocean all across the world.”
While the encounter marked the first time a shark of its kind has been found in western Caribbean waters, it may not be the last.
The team was given four satellite tags in case lightning does strike twice, they’ll be ready — and one step closer to finding how these sharks live in the tropics.
Demian Chapman, Director of Sharks and Rays Conservation Research at Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium said said he’d buy some lotto tickets if they catch another sleeper shark in the Caribbean water. But, if it happens, the team is ready.