Researchers fishing for tiger sharks off the coast of Belize couldn’t believe their eyes when they reeled in something they never expected. It turned out to be a Greenland shark typically found swimming in the cold Arctic waters.
According to reports, they found the shark swimming near a coral reef in the tropical setting. However, unlike the tiger sharks they were fishing for, this particular shark had black skin and pale blue eyes.
The shark species, known as an “enigma to science,” is half-blind and typically lives in the freezing waters in the Arctic and North Atlantic oceans.
Devanshi Kasana, a biologist at Florida International University, was fishing with other local anglers when they came across the shark.
“It was just very surprising and confusing,” she said. “As soon as it entered our field of vision, we saw a black figure that was getting bigger and bigger. When it came to the surface, none of the crew with all of their combined fishing experience had seen anything like that.”
Kasana said their catch was purely accidental. In April, the research team were working with members of the Belizean shark fishing community to set lines along a reef off the coast.
The waters of the reef can be as shallow as 25 feet. However, drop-offs can reach more than 2,000 feet down.
According to reports, the fishers were performing checks on their lines when they snatched up the animal.
A Greenland shark can live up to 500 years
“At first, I was sure it was something else, like a six-gill shark that are well known from deep waters off coral reefs,” said Kasana. She and her colleagues published a piece about the shark’s capture in the science journal Marine Biology in July.
“I knew it was something unusual. And so did the fishers, who hadn’t seen anything quite like it in all their combined years of fishing,” she added.
After examining with the Sharks & Rays Conservation Research director at Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium in Sarasota, Fla., they determined that it was most likely a Greenland shark.
However, they concluded that it could also be a Greenland shark and a Pacific sleeper shark hybrid based on its size. Either way, it was an incredibly rare find.
According to experts, these breeds are known to live more than 500 years. As a result, they’re one of the longest-living vertebrates in existence.
In addition, the breed lives for so long due to the slow rate at which they grow. They grow approximately a third of an inch per year and can get to more than 20 feet in length.
According to Kasana, the nearly 9,500-foot-deep waters off the coast were cold enough for the Greenland animal to live.
“If we were to catch another individual it would be sheer luck. We don’t set our lines in a way that targets Greenland sharks,” Kasana said.