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7 Cool Facts About the Greenland Shark

This week, video popped up of a researcher freaking out after he spotted a rare Greenland shark on footage he had downloaded from a remote camera in the Russian arctic (you can watch the hilarious video above). Here are a few things you might not have known about this elusive deep sea denizen. 

1. The first part of its scientific name, Somniosus microcephalus, roughly translates to “sleep,” because of the shark’s slow swimming; the second part of its name means “small head” (pretty self explanatory). In addition to Greenland shark, it’s sometimes called a sleeper shark or a ground shark, and it goes by a number of other names as well: In Greenland, its names include ekaluggsup piara, ekaluksuak, eqalussuak, and eqalusuak; in the Netherlands, South Africa, and Turkey, it’s called hakaring; in Italy, it's called squalo di groenlandia lemargo; and it’s referred to as tiburon boreal in Spain.

2. It’s one of the largest living sharks. At 6.5 feet long, the one seen above was probably very young; on average, they grow to 14 feet, and can get as large as 21 (or maybe 24) feet. But they grow slowly, at an average rate of a quarter-inch a year. The females are bigger than the males. 

3. Greenland sharks might live as long as 200 years!

4. Its meat is toxic—at least if you eat it fresh. Its flesh contains high concentrations of trimethylamine oxide (TMAO), which “helps stabilize [the shark’s] enzymes and structural proteins against the debilitating effects of cold and extreme pressure,” according to the ReefQuest Center for Shark Research. In mammals, though, TMAO gets broken down during digestion and causes a number of horrible symptoms, including “stiff movements, hyper-salivation, vomiting, explosive diarrhea, conjunctivitis, muscular twitching, respiratory distress, convulsions, and—in severe cases—death.”  It also makes people appear as though they’re drunk, which is why, according to the Florida Museum of Natural History, natives of Greenland say that people who are drunk are “shark-sick.” The Greenland shark’s flesh is so toxic that it earned a spot in Guinness World Records 2013, but it can be consumed if it’s prepared properly: It either needs to be boiled with several changes of water, or buried for as long as 12 weeks so that it freezes and thaws several times, then hung up to dry for a few months. The resulting snack is called hákarl; according to the Wall Street Journal, chef Anthony Bourdain called it "the single worst, most disgusting and terrible tasting thing" he's ever eaten.

5. The Greenland shark will eat pretty much anything, dead or alive. Though it mostly feeds on other fish—including small sharks, eels, lumpfish, and flounder—some specimens have been found with entire reindeer in their stomachs. One was found containing a juvenile polar bear's jaw, and this shark was found choking on a moose hide.

6. In the deep ocean where the Greenland shark typically lives—it’s been spotted as deep as 7220 feet—it doesn’t need great vision. And that’s a good thing, considering that these sharks are hosts for Ommatokoita elongata, a 2-inch-long parasitic copepod that attaches itself to the shark’s eyes, causing lesions that can lead to blindness. According to Daily Parasite,

The adult female copepod attaches herself to the shark's eye with an anchoring structure call the bulba, and grazes on the surface of the cornea. … There are two possible reasons for the copepod's attachment site. Shark skin is covered in microscopic, teeth-like structures call denticles which can make it difficult for parasites to attach themselves to skin (though some species of parasitic copepods manage). Secondly the eye is considered to be a "immunologically benign environment" for parasites, thus such an attachment is less likely to illicit an immune response.

It sounds gruesome, but the sharks don’t seem to mind; some even have copepods in both eyes.

7. It has crazy teeth. On the top jaw, they’re thin and pointed, without serration. The teeth on the lower jaw are broad, square, and interlocking with short, smooth, outward-pointing cusps. The top teeth serve as anchors while the bottom teeth do the cutting.

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Big Questions
Why Do Cats Freak Out After Pooping?
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Cats often exhibit some very peculiar behavior, from getting into deadly combat situations with their own tail to pouncing on unsuspecting humans. Among their most curious habits: running from their litter box like a greyhound after moving their bowels. Are they running from their own fecal matter? Has waste elimination prompted a sense of euphoria?

Experts—if anyone is said to qualify as an expert in post-poop moods—aren’t exactly sure, but they’ve presented a number of entertaining theories. From a biological standpoint, some animal behaviorists suspect that a cat bolting after a deposit might stem from fears that a predator could track them based on the smell of their waste. But researchers are quick to note that they haven’t observed cats run from their BMs in the wild.

Biology also has a little bit to do with another theory, which postulates that cats used to getting their rear ends licked by their mother after defecating as kittens are showing off their independence by sprinting away, their butts having taken on self-cleaning properties in adulthood.

Not convinced? You might find another idea more plausible: Both humans and cats have a vagus nerve running from their brain stem. In both species, the nerve can be stimulated by defecation, leading to a pleasurable sensation and what some have labeled “poo-phoria,” or post-poop elation. In running, the cat may simply be working off excess energy brought on by stimulation of the nerve.

Less interesting is the notion that notoriously hygienic cats may simply want to shake off excess litter or fecal matter by running a 100-meter dash, or that a digestive problem has led to some discomfort they’re attempting to flee from. The fact is, so little research has been done in the field of pooping cat mania that there’s no universally accepted answer. Like so much of what makes cats tick, a definitive motivation will have to remain a mystery.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Animals
Listen to the Impossibly Adorable Sounds of a Baby Sloth
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RODRIGO ARANGUA/AFP/GettyImages

Sometimes baby sloths seem almost too adorable to be real. But the little muppet-faced treasures don't just look cute—turns out they sound cute, too. We know what you're thinking: How could you have gone your whole life without knowing what these precious creatures sound like? Well, fear not: Just in time for International Sloth Day (today), we have some footage of how the tiny mammals express themselves—and it's a lot of squeaking. (Or maybe that's you squealing?)

The sloths featured in the heart-obliterating video below come from the Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica. The institution rescues orphaned sloths, rehabilitates them, and gets them ready to be released back into the wild.

[h/t The Kid Should See This]

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