Old illustration of the goblin shark
Image credit: Edgar R. Waite. Courtesy of the Freshwater and Marine Image Bank.

When people hear the word “shark,” images of the great white or shortfin mako might come to mind before the elusive goblin shark, a deepwater shark that can live almost 4,000 ft (1,200 m) beneath the surface of the ocean. Also known as the elfin shark, Mitsukurina owstoni is the only known living member of the family Mitsukurinidae. This family stretches back as far as 125 million years, to the early Cretaceous period! For comparison, the Tyrannosaurus lived only about 68 million years ago. This shark is definitely ancient and has some older morphological features, leading to many calling it a “living fossil.”

Just as other sharks are known for their unique appearances, like the hammerhead shark, the goblin shark also has some incredibly distinct physical characteristics that make it stand out. Its nose is perhaps its most recognizable feature, poking far out beyond its jaw. Like other sharks, the goblin shark has electroreceptors in its nose to detect prey and possesses a flexible skeleton, being a cartilaginous animal. It has a long, likely pink or purplish body.

Little is known about the diet of the goblin shark; it is believed, however, that they eat squid and crustaceans. There are no records of any pregnant goblin shark, so scientists know virtually nothing about this animal’s reproductive habits, either. Since it belongs to the order Lamniformes, it could give birth to live pups like others in this classification do. It is unknown what the size of a litter of goblin shark pups would likely be, although shark litters usually range between 2 to 20 pups.

Despite its shyness, the IUCN does list this creature as Least Concern. This is because—despite a low number of sightings—people have reported seeing the shark across the world, so it appears to have a wide distribution.

How long do goblin sharks live?

No one knows for sure how long the goblin shark lives. A general lifespan for sharks, however, is somewhere around two or three decades.

How long are goblin sharks?

Based on available specimens, the average length is a little over 5 ft (1.6 m), although they have been recorded as long as 12-and-a-half ft (~4 m).

How much do goblin sharks weigh?

The heaviest recorded goblin shark was 460 lbs (210 kg). Other sharks in the order Lamniformes vary widely in weight. The sand tiger shark, which is of similar length, usually weighs around 190 lbs (86 kg).