Goblin sharks are freaks that hunt with Goonies-like “pinchers-of-peril” jaws

Introduction:

Goblin sharks (Figure 1) are horrible looking freak-jobs that fling their own jaws out of their heads to catch their prey.  New research calls this technique “slingshot feeding,” but I say it seems more like biological, Goonies-esque “pinchers of peril!

The face of a goblin fish showing its stretchy mouth
Figure 1: Behold the goblin shark in all its repugnant glory. If this thing was a Goonie, it would definitely be “Mouth.” Credit: Dianne Bray / Museum Victoria.

Goblin shark background:

These disgusting fish (see Figure 1) are considered “living fossils.”  This is because they are the last living member of an otherwise-extinct family of animals called “Mitsukurinidae.”  These fish were gobbling up innocent prey from the oceans at the end of the Cretaceous Period.  That’s 125,000,000 years ago!  So goblin sharks’ ancestors swam around with sea monsters like Halisaurus and Elasmosaurus.

In modern times, goblin sharks were discovered in 1989 offshore of Japan.  They look like something from a horror show because their jaws are stretchy.  But until recently researchers could only assume that this sketchiness helped with catching prey.

New researchers’ description of “slingshot feeding”:

A new paper by Nakaya et al. (2016) describes the action of a goblin shark’s strike in four steps (excluding the initial resting phase).  These steps (phases) are:

  1. Expansive phase
  2. Shooting phase
  3. Grasping phase
  4. Holding phase

The whole procedure takes just 319 ms (0.319 seconds) until the holding phase begins.  Here is an explanation of what each phase is actually doing:

  1. The jaws open and the lower jaw retracts. The jaw cartilage rotates to stick the teeth out.
  2. The jaws shoot outward from the sharks face at 3.14 m/s (this is fast for a jaw projection).
  3. The jaws close after travelling a distance of 49.9% of the length of the shark’s head.
  4. The jaws retract to deliver the now terrified and doomed prey into the shark’s maw.

If a person did this, their jaws could snatch careless doughnuts out of the air from about 5 inches away from their skull!  Huugghhh… sprinkles…

It’s the equivalent of biological “pinchers of peril” (see Figure 2 for my vision of this).

Original Sciencosaurus graphic of the goblin shark's pinchers-of-peril-like jaws.
Figure 2: This original graphic of the goblin shark’s pinchers-of-peril-like jaws is available on lots of cool stuff in the scienceosaurus.com store.

References:

Nakaya, K., Tomita, T., Suda, K., Sato, K., Ogimoto, K., Chappell, A., Sato, T., Takano, K. and Yuki, Y. (2016). Slingshot feeding of the goblin shark Mitsukurina owstoni (Pisces: Lamniformes: Mitsukurinidae). Scientific reports, 6, 27786. http://www.nature.com/articles/srep27786

Jared Peters

Jared Peters

Jared Peters, PhD, is a geoscientist who specialises in marine sedimentology, marine palaeoglaciology and climate change.
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Jared Peters, PhD, is a geoscientist who specialises in marine sedimentology, marine palaeoglaciology and climate change.