What’s a Greenland shark doing in the Caribbean?

A Greenland shark in Belize (Devanshi Kasana / Florida International University)
A Greenland shark in Belize (Devanshi Kasana / Florida International University)
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Greenland sharks can live for 400 years or more but they are very rarely seen, having long been associated with deep, cold Arctic waters.

So scientific researchers were shocked when what seemed to be just such a sleeper shark turned up near their boat – not only to come across such a rare creature but because at the time they were tagging tiger sharks in balmy Belize, 4,000 miles south of the Arctic.

Devanshi Kasana, a biological sciences PhD student at Florida International University, was with a team working alongside local fishermen from a boat at the coral atoll Glover’s Reef. She noted that the 3-3.5m shark that had unexpectedly appeared on a line appeared “rather sluggish”.

“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. “I knew it was something unusual and so did the fishers, who hadn’t ever seen anything quite like it in all their combined years of fishing.”

Her advisor identified the blue-eyed animal from her photographs and video as a Greenland shark (Somniosus microcephalus), a verdict backed up by other specialists. The identification is not definitive, however, and the possibility has been raised that it could be a Greenland / Pacific sleeper shark (Somniosus pacificus) hybrid.

The Florida International University team stated that this was the first time a Greenland shark had been seen in the western Caribbean. They believe the sighting provides further support for a hypothesis that although the species is associated with polar and sub-polar waters, it also visits and stays in tropical regions, where the waters remain cold at depth. Glover’s Reef Atoll drops off to almost 3km.

The team’s report has been published in the journal Marine Biology.

Watchmaker to fund PADI shark census

PADI  and Blancpain are launching a citizen-science shark project (PADI)
PADI is launching a Blancpain-funded citizen-science shark project (PADI)

Swiss watchmaker Blancpain is set to fund an upcoming PADI / PADI AWARE Foundation citizen-science initiative called the Global Shark & Ray Census. This will form part of PADI’s Vulnerable Marine Species programme and is set to launch on Earth Day next year (22 April, 2024).

Blancpain and PADI have collaborated on environmental issues for more than two decades, with the manufacturer a founding partner of PADI’s Blueprint for Ocean Action. Last year the two announced an expanded commitment to work together to boost the number of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) around the globe. 

“The Global Shark & Ray Census enables divers to function as diving citizen-scientists in order to collect high-quality data and information on vulnerable shark species,” said PADI Worldwide CEO and PADI AWARE Foundation chairman Drew Richardson. “Engaged divers across the planet who choose to participate will directly help accelerate national and global protection measures where they are needed most.” 

For now Blancpain says it will match all personal donations to the PADI AWARE Shark Appeal, which supports development of the Vulnerable Marine Species programme.

Also on Divernet: 400-year-old sharks ‘living time-capsules’, Meningitis killed Cornwall shark – at tender age of 100, Shark had lived since Tudor/Stuart days, Divers snapshot 2000 sharks & rays


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