The Fins United Initiative is excited to bring back the loved "Underrated Elasmobranch Spotlight" series through TFUI officer Jess Myers. Learn about the Chondrichthyans not shown on the big screen through her beautiful artwork!
This shark is not the most sharky looking shark. If we’re being honest… these sharks don’t make too much sense to me, but that’s what makes them so fascinating! Megachasma pelagios, the megamouth shark was first discovered tangled in cables off of Oahu, Hawaii in 1976. They are extremely rare with only around 100 sightings to this day. This shark made the lineup this year because one was spotted off the coast of Liberia back in April.
Scientists have made the most of the few sightings of these animals to get as much information as possible. Their bodies are described as “tadpole-like” and their heads as “bulbous.” As mentioned before, they do not fit the typical shark shape. Megamouths can grow to a maximum of 5.5 meters (18 feet), making them the smallest of the 3 filter-feeding sharks. While they may feed similarly to whale and basking sharks, their closest living relatives are thresher sharks (Alopias sp.).
Due to the shape of their mouth and structure of their gills, scientists theorize that the sharks take large gulps of plankton, shrimp, and small fish rather than swimming long distances with their mouths open like the other planktivorous sharks. This feeding behavior would be more similar to that of baleen whales.* Additionally, it is proposed that the sharks have some sort of bioluminescent or reflective feature on their lips to help attract their prey.** Imagine having lip gloss that helped you get food! Speaking of prey, these large sharks get munched on by cookie cutter sharks (Isistius brasiliensis). Their large and slow-moving lifestyles make them a perfect target for the tiny, circular jaws.
Fisheries have no interest in these sharks, and they are listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List (2018).
*Kempster, R.M. and Collin, S.P. (2011). Electrosensory pore distribution and feeding in the megmouth shark Megachasma pelagios (Lamniformes: Megachasmidae).
**Taylor, L.R. Compagno, L.J.V., Struthsaker, P.J. (1983). Megamouth – a new species, genus, and family of lamnoid shark (Megachasma pelagios, family Magachasmidae) from the Hawaiian Islands.
Reference image and all other information from FishBase.
WHAT UNDERRATED CHONDRICHTHYAN DO YOU THINK SHARK WEEK SHOULD SHOWCASE?
TFUI Founder Melissa C. Marquez is author of all animal bios and "Behind the Fins" segments.
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