Mar 30, 2009

Greenland Ugly

The Greenland shark (Somniosus microcephalus) provides for a double dose of ugly. The shark, which dwells in arctic waters, is no beauty contest winner. Its pebbly hide and prehistoric appearance alone make it a good candidate for residency at Ugly Overload.

But the ugly doesn't start there. That's because most Greenland sharks are host to small crustacean parasites called copepods. These parasites attach themselves to the shark's cornea and do permanent damage to the eye, resulting in partial to complete blindness.

Photo source: Nick Caloyianis via National Geographic

But there is a silver lining to be found in these murky depths. Greenland sharks are also called sleeper sharks, because they are so slow-moving. So slow, that they can be dragged aboard with one's bare hands. So how in the world have they been found with squid and other fast-moving fish in their gullets? One theory is that the parasite, which dangles out of the eye like a worm, might serve as a lure for other fish, thereby allowing the shark to get close enough for an ambush attack. How's that for symbiosis?

Photo source: Nick Caloyianis via National Geographic

But then, that doesn't explain the seal, reindeer, polar bear, and even horse parts found inside the shark's belly. Just goes to show that we have a lot to learn. It also goes to show that not even polar bears can feel too safe when taking a moonlit stroll along the banks of the St. Lawrence River.

Thanks for the links, Rebecca.


Anonymous said...

I love this pic; the shark looks like a sock puppet:

I think he needs a wizard's hat and wand to magic away my tears, as well.

Miss Courtney Lake said...

Alas, there are not many polar bears along the banks of the St. Lawrence River... Montreal and Quebec take up too much room. It's a common problem here in Canada, cities mean too many igloos and few polar bears. Like many of your readers, I am a stickler for scientific accuracy!
If that shark lives in greenland, wouldn't the worried polar bears strolling along the banks of Scoresby Sund fiord?
Keep up the good work!

Raging Wombat said...

But there are polar bears to be found along the banks of the St. Lawrence, even if at its northern extreme, and even if in few numbers. So, be a stickler for accuracy. I was accurate!

Sorry, I'm still prickly about the whole eel / catfish debate of a week ago.