All About the Goblin Shark: A Bizarre Deep-Sea Predator

Leave a comment / / Updated on: 11th November 2023

NameGoblin SharkDietCarnivorous
Scientific nameMitsukurina owstoniWeightUp to 210 kgs (460 lbs)
Pronunciationgaa-bluhn shaarkLength3 to 4 meters (10 to 13 feet)
ClassificationChondrichthyes, Lamniformes, & LamnidaeLocationWorldwide

The Goblin Shark

Gage Beasley Wildlife's Goblin Shark Concept
Gage Beasley Wildlife’s Goblin Shark Concept

The deep ocean is known to host several ugly, strange-looking creatures

The goblin shark is one of the most notable examples of such bizarre creatures.

It has a prominent shovel-like snout, a flabby body, and specialized jaws lined with sharp, fang-like teeth that can snap out to snatch prey. 

It also has an unusual pinkish coloration, adding to its bizarre look.

The strange appearance of the goblin shark isn’t entirely surprising.

Gage Beasley's In-Demand Plush Toys
Gage Beasley’s In-Demand Plush Toys

It’s a 125 million years old species, which is why it is commonly referred to as a living fossil. 

The goblin shark is a relatively rare fish. 

It lives in deep ocean environments in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans. 

Due to the peculiarities of its habitat, there’s very limited knowledge about the lifestyle and habits of this shark species. 

In this article, we’ll explore some fascinating facts about this strange shark, including its physical attributes, habitat, diet, reproduction, and ecological interactions. 

Taxonomy and Classification

Goblin Shark
3D Render of the Goblin Shark | 3dsam79 via Getty Images

The scientific name of the goblin shark is Mitsukurina owstoni.

This rare and enigmatic deep-sea shark species belongs to the order Lamniformes within the class Chondrichthyes. 

The order includes several other mackerel shark species, like the great white. 

The Mitsukurinidae family, to which the goblin shark belongs, is a small family with only one known living species. 

Both living and extinct members of this family look distinctively different from other mackerel sharks because they branched off from the main evolutionary tree of sharks quite early.

Their evolution dates back to about 120 million years ago, making them one of the oldest lineages of sharks still living today. 

The closest living relative of the goblin shark is the sand shark. 

Both sharks look considerably different, but they share some similarities, such as narrow snouts, elongated tails, and teeth that protrude from their jaws. 

Physical Characteristics

Goblin Shark
Realistic Illustration of the Goblin Shark | Juliana Motzko via

The goblin shark is popular as one of the most creepy-looking fish in the world’s oceans. 

It is characterized by an elongated and flattened snout, or rostrum, which extends well beyond its mouth. 

The proportional length of the snout tends to decrease with age. 

The snout has specialized sensory organs known as electroreceptors, which are used to detect the weak electric fields generated by other animals in the water.

The goblin shark’s jaws are also highly specialized. 

The jaws are lined with numerous needle-like teeth and can be extended forward from the goblin shark’s mouth when capturing prey.

The goblin shark’s jaws are ideal for grasping and securing slippery prey in the deep-sea environment.

Goblin Shark
Goblin shark (Mitsukurina owstoni) scaled with a human | Kurzon via Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

This shark is small to medium-sized.  

Adults have an average length of about three to four meters (9.8–13.1 feet), but larger sizes of up to 6.2 meters (20 feet) are known. 

The maximum weight ever recorded for a goblin shark is 210 kilograms (460 pounds). 

This was for an individual with a length of about 3.8 meters (12.5 feet). 

Goblin sharks have slender bodies with soft, flabby skin. 

Their skin is usually semi-translucent, with a rough texture in some areas as a result of dermal denticles. 

Adult goblin sharks typically have a pinkish or tan hue, but juveniles are almost white. 

Goblin Shark
A close-up of the Goblin Shark | Photo via Critter Science

Their pinkish color is caused by the presence of blood vessels close to the skin. 

This pink color tends to deepen with age. 

Goblin sharks have two small, rounded dorsal fins. 

Their pectoral fins are also small and rounded, while the pelvic and anal fins are larger. 

The eyes of the goblin shark are relatively large and dark in color.

The eyes are typically positioned on the side of the shark’s head, which is probably an adaptation for hunting in low-light conditions. 

Habitat and Distribution

Goblin sharks are most commonly found in the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific oceans. 

They have a relatively wide distribution, but they’re mostly found in isolated or scattered populations in different regions where they’re present. 

In oceans where this shark inhabits, it is primarily found in deep-sea habitats, specifically in the mesopelagic and bathypelagic zones. 

These zones are characterized by extreme depths, low light conditions, and high pressures. 

The depth range of this species is typically between 270 and 960 meters (890–3,150 feet).

Goblin Shark
Goblin in the Deep Sea | 3dsam79 via Getty Images

However, it has been caught at depths of up to 1,300 meters (4,300 feet). 

In the Atlantic Ocean, the goblin shark has been caught in various countries, such as Mexico, France, Brazil, Portugal, and Senegal. 

In the Indian and Pacific oceans, this species is known off the coast of South Africa, Mozambique, Taiwan, Japan, New Zealand, and Australia. 

Only one specimen has been collected in the Eastern Pacific Ocean, off the southern coast of California.

This suggests the limited presence of the goblin shark in this region.

Behavior and Social Structure

Goblin Shark
Face close-up of the Goblin Shark | Photo via Marine Science Institute Blog

The goblin shark is a rare and elusive shark species. 

They have only been observed alive a few times, so there’s limited information about their behavior. 

The goblin shark is a slow-moving predator that feeds on a wide range of prey, including small fish, cephalopods (such as squids and cuttlefish), and crustaceans (such as deep-sea shrimps).

This shark’s territorial behavior and migration patterns are not well-documented.

But it is believed that they have a relatively large range, roaming vast areas of their preferred depth in search of prey. 

There’s no evidence of seasonal migrations for this species. 

Goblin sharks are solitary creatures, which means they tend to hunt and live on their own. 

While many mackerel sharks are known to demonstrate a wide range of group behaviors, sharks that live in deep-sea environments, like the goblin sharks, tend to be solitary. 

Due to the scarcity of resources in this zone of the ocean, it is more advantageous for predators to hunt alone to limit competition for food. 

Diet and Feeding

Goblin Shark
Rattails and other deep-living teleosts are the main food of the goblin shark | Photo via NOAA/Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute

Goblin sharks have a specialized diet that includes a wide range of deep-sea prey, like the rattail. 

It is a carnivorous predator that feeds on various prey species present in the mesopelagic and bathypelagic zones of the ocean. 

This shark’s diet includes small to medium-sized fish, cephalopods like squids and cuttlefish, and deep-sea crustaceans like shrimps and krill.

One of the most notable attributes of this shark is its highly modified jaws. 

The jaw is characterized by a double set of ligaments that form the mandibular jaw.

This intricate jaw structure makes it possible for the shark to project the jaws forward to capture prey. 

Goblin Shark
A photo montage of 15 still frames, from video taken in 2008, shows a juvenile goblin shark grabbing the arm of a diver | Photo stills courtesy of NHK; illustrations courtesy of Hokkaido University via EarthSky

They hold the jaws tightly while swimming but can extend it forward quickly when prey is detected in the water. 

Based on the slender, narrow teeth that form most of its dentition, experts think the goblin shark mainly feeds on soft-bodied prey like octopus, squid, and fish. 

However, it also has crushing teeth in the posterior end of its mouth, which suggests that it is capable of hunting hard-bodied prey like crabs. 

The goblin shark is not a fast swimmer. 

To catch prey, it relies on an ambush-style hunting strategy. 

This involves using the specialized sensory organs in its snout to detect the weak electric fields given off by prey in the water.

Gage Beasley's Goblin Shark Soft Stuffed Plush Toy
Gage Beasley’s Goblin Shark Soft Stuffed Plush Toy

This makes it possible to detect and approach prey in the dark, murky waters without relying on its sight. 

The goblin shark is also capable of creeping up to prey undetected by floating silently in the water. 

When it gets close enough, the shark can extend its jaws forward in a swift motion, capturing the prey in its needle-like teeth.

The protrusible jaws allow the goblin shark to grab prey without necessarily moving its entire body close to the prey. 

The shark’s numerous sharp teeth are well-suited for gripping and holding onto slippery prey, preventing escape.

Reproduction and Life Cycle

Goblin Shark
Goblin Shark | JLplusAL via Flickr

Details of the goblin shark’s reproductive behavior and life cycle are quite scanty.

There’s limited knowledge of the specific mating rituals and courtship behaviors of this shark species. 

Given their solitary nature and the vast depths they inhabit, their reproductive behavior is probably different from that of related shark species that live higher up in the ocean. 

Reproductive interactions are most likely brief and primarily focused on successful copulation. 

Like many other shark species, fertilization for the goblin shark is most likely internal. 

This ensures the successful transfer of sperm from the male to the female. 

The goblin shark is most likely ovoviviparous

This means they give birth to live young that hatches from eggs carried within the female’s body. 

Goblin Shark
Goblin Shark deep in the waters | Michigan State University via U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

However, there’s no conclusive evidence for this since no pregnant female has ever been captured. 

At birth, goblin sharks measure about 82 centimeters (32 inches) in length. 

They typically have a ghostly white appearance, with their color growing pinkish as they age. 

The length of the snout also reduces proportionately as they grow older.

Adults live at greater depths compared to juveniles. 

In some places, young goblin sharks have been found in inshore waters as shallow as 40 meters (130 feet). 

Pups are most likely independent when they’re born, left to fend for themselves in the challenging deep-sea habitat. 

They grow very slowly, with the males reaching maturity when they’re about 2.6 meters (8.5 feet) long.

Ecological Role and Interactions

Goblin Shark
Illustration of a Goblin Shark | blueringmedia via Getty Images

Goblin sharks are not prolific apex predators in their ecosystem compared to some other shark species. 

However, they still occupy a vital ecological position as one of the top predators in the deep-sea environment where they live. 

Its relatively large size and abundance within its habitat can make it a notable predator species in the prey-deficient deep-sea ecosystem. 

Given its size, the shark probably forms a part of the diet of larger deep-sea predators, too, especially as small, defenseless juveniles. 

The blue shark (Prionace glauca) is a potential predator of the goblin shark. 

Although no known symbiote of this shark has been identified, a few parasites, such as copepods and tapeworms, have been reported. 

Conservation Status and Threats

Goblin Shark
You can barely see the Goblin Shark in deep waters | 3dsam79 via Getty Images

The goblin shark is a deep-sea fish. 

Its habitat and rarity make it challenging to gather sufficient information about its population trends or determine the potential threats this shark species faces. 

It is currently listed as a species of least concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). 

This classification implies they’re not at significant risk of being endangered or extinct. 

Although there’s limited information about their population, experts cite their worldwide distribution and low incidence of capture as evidence of their abundance. 

This makes it difficult to determine its conservation status accurately. 

Goblin sharks are not targeted specifically by fishing boats. 

Deep-sea fishing | Arran HEYS via Getty Images

But they’re vulnerable to being caught unintentionally as bycatch in deep-sea fisheries that are targeting other species, which can lead to injury or death. 

Even when they’re not caught directly, destructive fishing practices such as bottom-trawling can cause damage to the habitats occupied by these species. 

Other potential threats include climate change and pollution due to various human activities, which can potentially affect the goblin sharks or lead to the decline of the prey, putting them at risk. 

Without sufficient knowledge of the population and conservation status of goblin sharks, it’s difficult to implement conservation efforts to address the specific threats that affect them. 

However, programs and initiatives meant to protect different deep-sea ecosystems directly benefit deep-sea species like the goblin shark. 

For instance, the establishment of marine protected areas or the implementation of sustainable fishing practices will reduce the chances of goblin sharks being captured accidentally as bycatch. 

Unique Adaptations and Survival Strategies

Deep-sea species like the goblin shark must demonstrate various adaptations and survival strategies to survive in the dark, food-deficient environment.

Some of the specific adaptations of the goblin shark include: 

Protrusible Jaws

Goblin Shark
Differing jaw positions in preserved goblin sharks caused several specimens to be described erroneously as distinct species | Hussakof L. A via Wikipedia

The goblin shark’s jaws are loosely attached to its skull and can extend outward by up to six inches. 

This allows the shark to snap its jaws outward quickly to capture prey. 

Long Snout

Goblin Shark
Just look at that snout! | Photo via Peter Halasz (CC BY-SA 3.0

The goblin shark’s snout is covered with electroreceptors called ampullae of Lorenzini. 

These receptors allow the shark to detect the electrical fields generated by other animals. 

An adaptation like this is critical for deep-sea creatures that need to hunt prey in the dark depths of the ocean. 

Transparent Skin

Goblin Shark
Can you see through it? | Photo via Fact Animal

The goblin shark’s skin is transparent.

This is a camouflage adaptation that helps the shark avoid detection from predators.

Cultural Significance and Human Interactions

Goblin Shark
What a beauty! | Photo Illustration by Kelly Caminero / The Daily Beast / Alamy

Given its unique habitat, the goblin shark has very limited interactions with humans. 

It is only caught occasionally as a bycatch of deepwater trawls or deep-set gill nets. 

The meat has no commercial value, so it is rarely sold. 

The goblin shark is also not kept in zoos or artificial planetariums. 

A specimen was once kept on display at the Yokohama Aquarium in Japan, but it only survived for a week. 

Encounters with humans are rare. 

However, given its large size, it could be potentially dangerous if it comes in contact with humans. 

Future Prospects and Research

Goblin Shark
Zoom in on the Goblin Shark! | Photo via Fact Animal

Due to their deep-sea habitat and elusive nature, studying and tracking the distribution of deep-sea sharks like the goblin shark is a challenging endeavor. 

However, our understanding of this intriguing shark species may get better with time as technology and exploration of deep-sea environments improve.

With future studies and the possibility of observing them directly within their habitats, we may be able to gain more insight into the unique and mysterious way of life of the goblin shark and other fascinating creatures that live in the depths of the oceans. 

More comprehensive research on goblin shark populations and the factors that threaten them may also lead to a more accurate knowledge of their conservation status. 

This will help establish improved conservation strategies to keep them from going extinct if they’re found to be more vulnerable than currently assumed.


The goblin shark is a grotesque fish that lives in deep-water environments all over the world. 

It lives in depths of up to 4,300 feet, where it preys on fish and soft-bodied prey such as squids and octopuses. 

This impressive shark species uses its long snout for detecting prey in the dark marine environment and has protrusible jaws that can snatch prey quickly and efficiently.

This makes it a very important predator species in the deep marine environment where it lives. 

Although there are still a lot of facts yet to be known about the goblin fish, it is just one of several intriguing species you’ll encounter as you seek to learn more about various animal species that inhabit various ecosystems on the planet.


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