A bizarre deep-sea shark with bulging eyes and an unnerving, human-like smile was recently dragged up from the depths off the coast of Australia. Shark experts are uncertain exactly which species the creepy-looking creature might belong to, adding to the mystery surrounding the unusual specimen.
A deep-sea angler, who goes by the online name Trapman Bermagui, reeled in the mysterious shark from a depth of around 2,130 feet (650 meters) off the coast of New South Wales in Australia. The fisher later shared a snap of the deep-sea specimen on Sept. 12 on Facebook (opens in new tab). The image shows off the dead shark’s rough sandpaper-like skin, large pointed snout, large bulging eyes and exposed pearly whites.
The shark’s unusual features quickly caught the attention of other Facebook users, who were either amazed or terrified by the creature. One commenter wrote that the specimen was “the stuff of nightmares,” while another wrote that the creature’s “evil smile” gave them “major creeps.” Other people joked about the animal’s appearance, speculating that the shark was wearing “false teeth” or that it was smiling after finally having its braces removed.
Commenters also speculated about which species the shark belonged to. The most common guess was that the specimen was a cookiecutter shark (Isistius brasiliensis), which is named for the distinctive bite marks it leaves on larger animals. Other guesses included a goblin shark (Mitsukurina owstoni) or a species of lantern shark (Etmopteridae).
‘Naked’ shark was born without skin or teeth in world first
In July 2019, fishers trawling the Mediterranean Sea south of Sardinia, Italy, accidentally pulled a mutant from the depths. Ensnared in their net among hundreds of other fish, sharks and assorted marine life was a blackmouth catshark (Galeus melastomus) — seemingly born without skin or teeth. While scientists have reported numerous cases of albinism, discoloration and other genetic skin mutations in sharks before, this rare catch is the first and only known case of a shark living with a “severe lack of all skin-related structures [including] teeth,” according to a study published July 16 in the Journal of Fish Biology.
However, Trapman Bermagui disagreed with the online commenters. “Totally not a cookiecutter,” the fisher told Newsweek (opens in new tab). “It’s a rough skin shark, also known as a species of endeavor dogfish.”
Endeavor dogfish (Centrophorus moluccensis) are a type of gulper shark, a group of deep-sea sharks found throughout the world, according to the Shark Research Institute (opens in new tab).
But some shark experts were unconvinced by the fisher’s identification.
“Looks to me like a deepwater kitefin shark (Dalatias licha), which are known in the waters off Australia,” Christopher Lowe, director of the Shark Lab at California State University, Long Beach, told Newsweek. Although, it is hard to tell for sure without being able to see the entire specimen, he added.
Dean Grubbs, a marine biologist and shark expert at Florida State University, offered up a different conclusion. Grubbs suspected that the dead shark was a roughskin dogfish (Centroscymnus owstonii), a type of sleeper shark from the same family as Greenland sharks (Somniosus microcephalus), according to Newsweek.
It is also possible that the shark could belong to a never-before-seen species, Lowe said. “We discover new species of deepwater shark all the time and many look very similar to each other.”
However, other experts believe that Trapman Bermagui may have been spot on after all.
“It’s a gulper shark,” Brit Finucci, a fisheries scientist at the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research in New Zealand who specializes in deep-sea sharks, told Live Science in an email. However, it is unclear exactly which species in this group it belongs to, she added.
Charlie Huveneers, a shark scientist at Flinders University in Australia, told Live Science that he agreed with Finucci’s identification and that the animal was most likely a gulper shark.
“In the past, gulper sharks were targeted by fisheries for their liver oil in New South Wales,” Finucci said. Most gulper sharks are “very sensitive to overexploitation from fishing” and as a result, “some species are now highly threatened and protected in Australia,” she added.
Harry is a U.K.-based staff writer at Live Science. He studied Marine Biology at the University of Exeter (Penryn campus) and after graduating started his own blog site “Marine Madness,” which he continues to run with other ocean enthusiasts. He is also interested in evolution, climate change, robots, space exploration, environmental conservation and anything that’s been fossilized. When not at work he can be found watching sci-fi films, playing old Pokemon games or running (probably slower than he’d like).