Discovery

The goblin shark M. owstoni was first discovered in 1898 by a fisherman in Sagami bay near Yokohama, Japan (Jordan 1898). The shark caught was immature male that measured 107cm.  The specimen was given to a naturalist called Alan Owston and then he gave it to Professor Kakichi Mitsukuri at the University of Tokyo. At this point word had got around that a mythical creature had been brought up from the depths and many scientists flocked to Tokyo to examine the goblin shark. Among them was American ichthyologist David Starr Jordan who was to the first to recognise the odd fish not only as a new species, but also a new genus and family.  Shortly after the ichthyologist published his finding, a few scientists noted a similarity between the goblin shark and the extinct Mesozoic shark genus Scapanorhynchus. Even though the sharks existed million years apart, they share the distinct “spade snout” and many shark experts at the time considered reclassifying the goblin shark as Scapanorhynchus owstoni (Hussakof 1909).

Artistic impression
Fig. 6. Illustration of Mitsukurina owstoni drawn in 1921 (Hassel & Son 1921)(Image free to use).

As more fossils were discovered and live specimens caught they revealed many anatomical differences between the two species and so the goblin shark become its own recognised species. Although during the early 20th century, several goblin shark specimens were described as separate species all of which are no longer considered valid (Hussakof 1909). The confusion occurred because of the sharks distinct protrusible jaw. When the specimens were caught from the deep sea, their jaws were all fixed at varying degrees and upon preservation it gave the appearance of differences in the head.

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