What makes the rarely seen Goblin Shark, Mitsukurina owstoni, so unusual is its bizarre ‘alien-like’ jaw mechanism. As its jaws close, two ligaments are stretched. The act of opening the mouth releases the tension on the ligaments resulting in the jaws being thrust forward.

One of the other weird-looking things about this shark is its long flattened snout, the lower side of which is covered with pores. These are the openings to the ‘ampullae of Lorenzini’, a sensory system that allows the electroreception of prey. Food items are believed to include fishes, octopuses, squids, shrimps and crabs. Sadly the gut of ‘our fish’ was empty, so we can’t describe its last meal.

The newly acquired specimen is a juvenile male of 1.26 m in length. It was caught by a commercial fisher off Eden in water several hundred metres deep.

Goblin Shark in the sorting lab
Goblin Shark in the sorting lab Image: mark mcgrouther
© Australian Museum

The Australian Museum’s Ichthyology Collection now contains four Goblin Shark specimens collected in Australian waters. Two specimens (including the recent addition, AMS I.46541-001) are juveniles just over 1 m in length; the other two are much larger at 3.6 m and 3.8 m long.

We retain only the head and various organs of these larger fish because it’s just not feasible for the Museum to store thumping great fish of this size. Interestingly, all four specimens are males caught off the coast of New South Wales between Sydney and Eden.

Special thanks to Merimbula Aquarium aquarist Michael McMaster who kindly offered the fish to the Australian Museum and to Libby Hepburn who drove it to Sydney.