Meet the world’s oldest-living vertebrate, the Greenland Shark.
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Last updated: April 19, 2019 at 23:07 pm
The Greenland shark is the largest member of the Somniosidae family. It is the second largest* carnivorous shark after the great white and it is the largest Arctic fish. It is also the longest-living vertebrate animal with a life expectancy of at least 272 years (Nielsen et al., 2016). Its range extends from the Arctic Ocean and Northern Europe to the 32nd parallel north in the Atlantic Ocean. It reaches an enormous size and despite its lethargic appearance, it is a predator capable of short bursts of speed, and under certain conditions may hunt seals and even larger mammals including the beluga whale.
The Greenland shark is very rarely observed because of its bathybenthic environment that is inaccessible to divers. The first underwater photos of a live specimen were taken in the Arctic in 1995, and the first video images of a shark swimming freely under natural circumstances were filmed by the current GEERG team in 2003 in the St. Lawrence Estuary.
*Equal length as the white shark but approximately half the girth.
Diving with the Greenland Shark
Relation with Man
Size and Appearance
(1) In 1940, a wildlife officer was stalked by a Greenland shark while walking on pack ice at Basques Island in the St. Lawrence. The shark’s behaviour is consistent with that of an experienced seal predator.
(2) Around 1859, a human leg was reportedly found in the stomach of a Greenland shark caught at Pond Inlet, on Baffin Island.
(3) A frequently told story is that of a family being attacked by a Greenland shark during a canoe excursion on the St. Lawrence in 1848. They only survived the attack by throwing an infant child overboard to distract the shark. Another version of the same story takes place aboard a kayak in the Arctic, which leads us to believe that both stories are more legend than fact.
Although the following are by no means attacks, thousands of victims of shipwrecks and war in the North Atlantic and the St. Lawrence – including the Empress of Ireland – may have been scavenged by the Greenland shark as it hovers just over the sea floor in search of food.
* The shark was not attracted by bait or caught on hook & line.