Goblin Shark

Mitsukurina owstoni

Goblin shark. Photo © George Burgess
Goblin shark. Photo © George Burgess

This bottom-dwelling shark is pinkish grey and flabby-looking, with small, rounded fins and a caudal fin (tail) with a strong top lobe and no bottom lobe. It is most recognizable for its flat, elongated snout, and its large mouth full of long, narrow teeth. It averages between 10 and 13 feet long, but has been caught at over 18 feet. Not a great deal is known about the goblin shark, but it is thought to mostly eat soft prey like shrimp, small fish, octopus, and squid, which it catches by quickly projecting its jaw forward and pulling prey into its mouth.

Order – Lamniformes
Family – Mitsukurinidae
Genus – Mitsukurina
Species – owstoni

Common Names

This shark is known as the goblin shark in the Unites States, Australia, New Zealand, England, and South Africa. It also referred too as elfin shark (English ), hiisihai (Finnish), Japanese neushaai (Dutch), Japanischer nasenhai (German), kabouterhaai (Dutch and Afrikaans), karsahai (Finnish), Koboldhaai ( Dutch), koboldhai (German), lensuháfur (Icelandic), mitsukurizame ( Japanese), naesehaj (Danish), Nasenhai (German), näshaj (Swedish), nesehai (Norwegian), neushaai (Dutch), requin lutin (French), schoffelneushaai (Dutch), squalo folletto (Dutch), squalo goblin ( Italian), teguzame (Japanese), teppichhai (German), tiburón duende (Spanish), trollhaj (Swedish), tubarão-demónio (Portuguese), tubarão-gnomo (Portuguese), zoozame (Japanese), and žralok škriatok (Czech).

Importance to Humans

There is minimal commercial interest for the goblin shark. It is fished only as a bycatch of deepwater trawl, longlines and deep-set gill nets. It has been dried-salted for human consumption. Although it is thought to be a great exhibit, it has rarely been kept in captivity. One specimen survived in an aquarium for a week at Tokai University, Shimizu, Japan.

Danger to Humans

The goblin shark seldom comes in contact with humans; however, because of its large size it could be potentially dangerous.


> Check the status of the goblin shark at the IUCN website.

The IUCN is a global union of states, governmental agencies, and non-governmental organizations in a partnership that assesses the conservation status of species.

Geographical Distribution

World distribution map for the goblin shark
World distribution map for the goblin shark

The deep-water goblin shark is thought to be widely distributed. Specimens have been seen in the Atlantic off the coast of Guyana, Surinam, French Guyana, France, Madeira, Senegal, Portugal, Gulf of Guinea, and South Africa. It has also been reported in the western pacific off Japan, Australia and New Zealand. In the Indian Ocean it is found in South Africa and Mozambique. It was recently recorded in the United States near San Clemente Island off the coast of California as well as in the northern Gulf of Mexico south of Pascagoula, Mississippi. Few specimens have ever been caught making it one of the rarest species of sharks.


The goblin shark is a bottom-dwelling shark that is rarely seen at the surface or in shallow coastal waters. This species is found along the outer continental shelves, upper slopes, and off seamounts. Most specimens have been observed near continental slopes between 885 feet (270m) and 3149 feet (960m) deep. It has been found in waters up to 4265 feet (1,300m) deep and in waters as shallow as 311 feet (95m) to 449 feet (137m). Records indicate that the goblin could also be an oceanic species.


Goblin shark. Photo courtesy FAO
Goblin shark. Photo courtesy FAO

Distinctive Features
The goblin shark can be easily identified by its elongated and flattened snout. It has a distinctly long head, tiny eyes and five short gill openings. The mouth is large and parabolic in shape. Its body is soft and flabby.

This shark has a long caudal fin without a ventral lobe. The pectoral fins are short and broad and the two dorsal fins are small, rounded and equal in size. The anal fin is rounded and smaller than the dorsal fins, while the pelvic fins are larger than the dorsals. The goblin shark has a long protrusable jaw with long slender teeth. Its body characteristics suggest that it is a slow moving shark with a density close to seawater.

Underside of goblin shark head. Photo © George Burgess
Underside of goblin shark head. Photo © George Burgess

Living goblin sharks are a pinkish white color with bluish fins. Specimens fade and become brownish when preserved in alcohol.

Goblin sharks have 26 large, narrow, awl-like teeth on their upper jaw and 24 on their lower jaw. They have three rows of anterior teeth on each side of both jaws. The teeth in the anterior upper jaw are separated from the smaller upper lateral teeth by a gap.

The goblin shark has small and rough dermal denticles. The denticles have crowns with narrow cusps and ridges. The cusps of the lateral denticles occur perpendicular to the skin.

Goblin shark jaw. Photo © George Burgess
Goblin shark jaw. Photo © George Burgess

Size, Age, and Growth
Mature male goblins have been found to be 8.66 feet (264cm), 10.49 feet (320cm) and 12.6 feet (384cm) in total length. Mature females have been measured to be 11 feet (335cm) and 12.2 feet (372cm). Size at birth is not known but the smallest specimen found was 3.51 feet (107cm). The maximum reported length of the goblin shark is 12.6 feet (384cm). This specimen weighed 463 pounds (210kg).

Food Habits
The goblin shark uses a sense system known as ampullae of Lorenzini, found in its snout, for electrodetection of prey. The jaws are modified for rapid projection to aid in the capture of prey. The jaw is thrust forward by a double set of ligaments at the mandibular joints. When the jaws are retracted the ligaments are stretched and they become relaxed when the jaw is projected forward. The jaws are usually held tightly while swimming and function like a catapult when the animal wants to feed. Its slender narrow teeth suggest it mainly feeds on soft body prey including shrimps, pelagic octopus, fish, and squid. It is also thought to feed on crabs. The posterior teeth are specialized for crushing.

Upper and lower teeth from left side. Photo courtesy FAO
Upper and lower teeth from left side. Photo courtesy FAO

The goblin shark is thought to be ovoviviparous; however, a pregnant female has never been captured. Records have shown that mature females visit the east coast of Honshu during the springtime, which could be related to reproduction patterns.

A 419 pound (190kg) male collected off Ulladulla, New South Wales, Australia was found to have four different species of tapeworms. These internal parasites were recovered from the spiral intestine. These included two new species: Litobothrium amsichensis and Marsupiobothrium gobelinus.

Goblin sharks feed on a variety of prey including the blackbelly rosefish (Helicolenus dactylopterus) and various crabs. Photo courtesy NOAA
Goblin sharks feed on a variety of prey including the blackbelly rosefish (Helicolenus dactylopterus) and various crabs. Photo courtesy NOAA


The goblin shark was first described in 1898, by Jordan, as Mitsukurina. This genus has been synonymized with the fossil Scapanorhynchus described by Woodward, 1889. The relationship between the two genus has been debated. Currently, the Mitsukurina family includes Mitsukurina owstoni and the fossil species of Scapanorhynchus andAnomotodon. Other synonymous names include Odontaspis nautus Branganza 1904, Scapanorhynchus jordani Hussakof 1909, and Scapanorhynchus dofleini Engelhardt 1912.

Prepared by: Vanessa Jordan