By Luke Kenton
This incredibly rare footage provided an unprecedented glimpse into the life of a Greenland shark, when two scientists had a chance encounter with the ancient species during a routine underwater ecosystem surveillance trip.
Despite being able to reach lengths of over seven metres long and possessing the believed capability to live for nearly 500 years, still very little is known about the Greenland shark, due to their notoriously elusive nature.
Dwelling in the depths of the bitterly cold North Atlantic Ocean, the secret to this ancient creature’s fountain of youth has remained a mystery for several generations of scientists, but Brynn Devine and Laura Wheeland’s profound encounter with prehistoric shark may help to unravel some of its enigma.
Deploying a baited camera on the sea bed off the coast of Nunavut during a research project on behalf of the Fisheries and Marine Institute of Newfoundland Memorial University, Brynn and Laura were left stunned to see the shark emerge from the murky depths and stare down the camera lens.
Admitting that seeing the shark in its natural habitat was surreal, like “watching Shark Week in slow-motion,” Brynn said: “We were performing ecosystem surveys in order to better understand species distributions throughout the arctic – particularly in data poor areas.
“The baited camera was a sampling method used as part of the survey, which allowed us to look for species we might not encounter with exploratory fishing gear.
“Given the regions we were sampling, we knew there was a good chance to capture sharks on the camera, but we were not certain we’d see them.”
Growing at a rate of just one 1cm per year, Greenland sharks – one of few polar shark species – aren’t thought to reached a stage of sexual maturity until they’re 150 years old.
Despite slow swimming speeds and eye parasites plaguing their vision, the Greenland shark is a top predator in the Arctic ecosystem and the world’s longest living vertebrate species.
Brynn said: “The Greenland sharks are by far the largest fish in the Artic – despite growing so slowly.
“They have been encountered on video before, but their elusiveness is largely down to their preference for deep, cold waters of the Arctic and North Atlantic Oceans.
“It’s fascinating to me that we still know so little about one of the world’s largest marine fishes.
“There are many aspects regarding the basic biology of this species that remain unknown – but hopefully with new technologies and increased accessibility in the Arctic, we can address knowledge gaps in the near future.
“Having previously only seen them caught on longline gear at the surface, it was wonderful to see them swimming along the seafloor in their natural habitat.
“Even though it was a bit like watching ‘Shark Week’ in slow-motion, it was amazing to see them feeding on the bait and interacting with the camera.”