A rarely-seen shark species that once occupied the world alongside dinosaurs--and may have inspired maritime myths of sea serpents--has been caught off the coast of Portugal.
Did this prehistoric creature, with its long and thin body and snake-like head, inspire tales of sea serpents? [Image by Awashima Marine Park/Getty Images]
Frilled sharks are like the stuff of nightmares, if you’re the type to feel dread or anxiety over the mysteries of the deep. Actually, even if you don’t think about that kind of stuff too much, the frilled shark is bound to at least make you uncomfortable. We don’t know much about this species, since it prefers to live in the deepest waters. However, we do know that this species is a “living fossil”: it has been around, largely unchanged, for 80 million years. They shared the earth with the dinosaurs, which means that this shark survived whatever it was that killed the dinosaurs, as well as every other calamity since then.
The shark can grow up to two meters long--the height of a very tall man. They’re called “frilled” sharks because of the appearance of their gills, which look like frills. However, the frilliness stops there.
The gills are the only frilly things on this shark. [Image by OpenCage]
As if the fact that the shark is a prehistoric holdout from the Cretaceous period wasn’t terrifying enough, it also has a total of 300 needle-like teeth lining the jaws of its snake-like head. We’re also not sure exactly how many there are of this species roaming around in the sea. Since they live in such extreme depths, it’s difficult to get a handle on their exact number. Also, because the sharks are hard to get to, it’s difficult to figure out exactly what makes them almost terrifyingly resilient.
Nightmare teeth [Image by OpenCage]
However, in the summer of this year, researchers managed to find a live frilled shark in the water off Portugal’s Algarve coast. They were working on a project aiming to minimize the chances that commercial fishing will come up with unwanted catches. However, while what they caught wasn’t unwanted, it was definitely unexpected.
This isn’t the first time that the creature has been unexpectedly found. Previous encounters with the shark have revealed small but important chunks of information about the species. For example, scientists found that the shark is quite simple in biology and largely unevolved, likely due to a lack of nutrients in the deep waters it dwells in. Another study, meanwhile, discovered that cephalopods like octopuses and squids make up 61% of the shark’s diet.
The first known footage of a frilled shark, taken in 2004 [mage by the NOAA]
An important piece of information that we still don’t know, however, is how the frilled shark species managed to survive for such a long time. Unfortunately, there’s a chance, albeit a small one, that human activities may affect the species. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) says that the frilled shark is of least concern, but that doesn’t mean that the shark will always be safe. Deep water commercial fishing can make it more likely that the shark will become bycatch. Hopefully, however, that won’t happen.
It’s unlikely that accidental contact between humans and frilled sharks will happen. You don’t have to worry about swimming out to the sea within view of the beach and bumping into this terrifying prehistoric sea monster. In the off-chance that you do, however, it’s best to make sure that you keep as far away from it as you can.
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