While the nickname suggests megamouth, Pelagios megachasma, is known for a large mouth on a rounded head and they are thought to grow to 17 feet, according to the Florida Museum of Natural History. There are only about 70 confirmed sightings of the elusive shark in the world, according to the museum.
Now, a megamouth that was caught by fishermen off the coast of Taiwan in 2018 is sitting on a giant ice block at the Smithsonian Museum Natural History Support Center. The Smithsonian broke the news Tuesday through an article in their magazine.
“When it comes to sharks, they are probably one of the most unique and bizarre-looking species,” Paul Clerkin, a graduate researcher at the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences in Virginia, said in the article.
“Their mouths continue to open and their upper jaw closes like a convertible hood.”
The shark can weigh up to 2,600 pounds and is considered the smallest of the three filter-eating shark species, behind the whale shark and the shark they contain, according to the Oceana Conservation Group. The first known megamouth was accidentally discovered by the US Navy in 1976 in the waters of Hawai’i.
The crew used two sea anchors with parachutes reaching a depth of 500 meters, according to the State Department of Land and Natural Resources. When the anchors were assembled, they discovered that a 00 1,500 megamouth was tangled in the lines. He did not survive.
Since then, confirmed shark sightings have occurred worldwide in the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans, according to the Florida Museum of Natural History.
Discovery of data on shark evolution
Clerkin, who collected the new Smithsonian specimen in Taiwan, will collaborate with other researchers to uncover clues to the life of this mysterious animal. But they will work against the clock as the specimen will start to rot.
“Understanding the life history of sharks is important, especially because we do not know their full role in marine ecosystems or how sensitive they are to man-made pressures,” Clerking said. “They are a big influence in the world.”
Once the studies are completed, the shark will be stored with formaldehyde and then ethyl alcohol for long-term storage, according to the Smithsonian. It will join over six million other specimens in the Fish Division Museum collections.
“Even if we never collect one again, we will still know that megamouth sharks existed on Earth at this time,” said Dr. Lynne Parenti, Curator of Freshwater Fish and Pacific Tissue at the museum, in article. “We’re saving this for everyone for what it says about basic biodiversity. It can also answer questions that haven’t been asked yet.”