Sea Misfits: the Rare, the Weird, and the Ugly of the Shark World

Forget great whites and makos. It’s time for these lovable oddballs’ moment in the sun.

By AT&T Digital Media Productions editorial team

High school is hard. Not everyone gets to be the prom king or the homecoming queen, and that leaves, well…the rest of us. The ones with regrettable hair and fashion choices. Who got a little too into Magic: The Gathering. Who had braces. Oh, those braces.

The open water? It’s basically the same. Sure, the great whites get all the glory, but there are 400+ other species out there.

Meet the misfits of the deep blue: the sharks who weren’t voted Best Athlete or Most Likely to Be an Alpha Apex Predator. These sharks won’t win any popularity contests, but get to know them, and you may come to appreciate their unique qualities. At least they don’t have to wear braces.

 

Sawshark

Wikipedia

This deep-sea shark is known for its distinctive tooth-lined snout, which it uses to slash its prey. The sawshark has two fleshy barbel appendages, thought to help the shark sense prey on the ocean floor. They also come in handy should the sawshark be cast as a mustache-twirling cartoon villain.

A typical sawshark grows to around five feet on a diet of crustaceans and small fish. They tend to hide on the bottom of the sea floor, perhaps to stay out of the way of the conventionally cool tiger and bull sharks that also inhabit the warm waters of Florida, Cuba, and the Bahamas.

 

Goblin Shark

Discovery

Looks certainly aren’t everything, but the goblin shark has a face only a mother could love. And that’s pushing it. From their long, pointy nose to their mouth full of spiny teeth, goblin sharks look like a nightmare of an ancient era--fitting, since the species is at least 125 million years old.

Unlike most sharks, the goblin shark is pink, owing to transparent skin that allows a view of the oxygenated blood in their capillaries. While not much is known about this deep sea diver, it’s believed that they eat squid, crabs and bony fish, which they detect with electrical sensors in their nose. When it comes time to feed, their jaws detach several inches from their skull to snatch prey.

A hideous, see-through, pink shark whose mouth has a mind of its own. And you thought you were misunderstood.

 

Frilled Shark

Discovery

With their feathery gills, huge mouths, and slithery bodies, frilled sharks are thought to be the inspiration for mythical sea serpents. In the absence of competition in its deep-water habitat, the frilled shark has retained many primitive-seeming features, and is often called a “living fossil.” Some paleontologists believe they are related to sharks that lived 300 million years ago.

Scientists have never seen these “alien sharks” feed, but it’s believed that the frilled shark can swallow prey twice their own size, expanding their bodies with a pair of skin folds near their stomachs. Their distensible jaws, armed with 25 rows of teeth, ensure nothing escapes their clutches.

 

Ghost Shark

NOAA

The spookily named ghost shark (also known as...the spookfish) is actually a pretty relaxed creature, trawling the ocean floor for shellfish to chomp on with its plate-like teeth. Its giant eyes, unique body “stitching” and slow glide through the deep all contribute to its ghastly appearance.

Like many sharks, they locate their prey with electroreception and lay eggs in leathery cases. But that’s where the similarities end. The ghost shark has a razor-sharp, venomous spine to ward off predators. Oh, and the males have retractable genitalia on their foreheads. Nobody’s perfect.

 

Basking Shark

Flickr user yohancha

The basking shark is one of the largest sharks on earth, weighing in at 21 tons and measuring up to 40 feet in length. But like its fellow gentle giant the whale shark, it filters the ocean for plankton, and is no threat to humans.

Basking sharks migrate during the winter to get closer to the equator, and swim all day with their mouths wide open. More social than other shark species, they can be found swimming in single file lines.

 

The Most mysterious: Megamouth Shark

FLMNH Ichthyology/Wikimedia Commons

The megamouth is a scientific enigma. They were only discovered 39 years ago, and less than 100 have ever been seen. Living 5,000 feet underwater tends to keep the mystery alive.

Instead of the smooth skin most sharks possess, the megamouth has loose, flabby skin. It also has fewer fins, so it’s not the best swimmer. But instead of hunting for food, it sucks in vast quantities of plankton and jellyfish as it drifts slowly through the water. Its mouth actually glows, which may help lure prey in the dark of the deep.

 

Cookiecutter Shark

Seal with cookiecutter shark bites. Jerry Kirkhart/Flickr

The parasitic cookiecutter shark is named for how it eats, taking mouth sized chunks from its prey, which often includes tuna, dolphins, and larger sharks. Like many sharks, they have several rows of teeth. However, the cookiecutter purposely swallows the teeth that it loses.  Some scientists believe it helps them retain precious nutrients. Maybe they just can’t bear to say goodbye.

 

Want to see more rare, mysterious, and just plain weird sharks? Tune in to Shark Week, only on Discovery.

 

Sources: Shark Savers, Shark Sider, Discovery, Sharkopedia, Sharks, Oceana.