Science | August 4, 2022 2:43 pm

Arctic Sharks Are Now Showing Up in the Caribbean, Apparently

The Greenland shark was spotted in the area for the first time in history, seemingly vacationing off the coast of Belize

A rare Greenland shark swimming in the ocean. One was found in Belize, far from the Arctic Ocean.
Vacation time for Greenland sharks.

Greenland sharks are the longest living vertebrates in the world, capable of living up to 400 years. To put that in perspective, according to National Geographic, “There could be an individual in the ocean today that was alive during the 1665 Great Plague of London and George Washington’s presidential inauguration in 1789.”

Yet, despite their longevity, Greenland sharks are also extremely rare. At least, sightings by humans are extremely rare. That’s due largely to the deep, Arctic waters they’ve been known to inhabit (which humans typically do not). We’re talking 7,200 feet deep, and between 28.4 to 44.6 degree Fahrenheit waters. That said, this past spring, scientists were able to get up close and personal with a Greenland shark. The kicker? It was in the western Caribbean, off the coast of Belize.

Per a report from CNN, Devanshi Kasana, a Ph.D. student at Florida International University (FIU), was working alongside Belizean fishermen to tag tiger sharks when she noticed that one shark attached to their lines was very obviously not a tiger shark. After texting a picture of the shark to her advisor, a director at Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium in Florida, it was confirmed that the shark was, in fact, a Greenland shark.

“I am always excited to set my deep water line because I know there is stuff down there that we haven’t seen yet in Belize, but I never thought I would be catching a Greenland shark,” Omar Faux, one of the fishermen, said in a press release from FIU.

Finding anything thousands of miles from its usual haunts is unusual, but an ancient, frigid-water-dwelling shark in the Caribbean? It’s a little disconcerting.

That said, Caribbean-bound travelers need not fret. Not only are Greenland sharks not basking in the shallows near your Sandals resort, they are — more often than not — blind, due to a parasite that leeches itself to their corneas. They’re purportedly one of the slowest sharks, too. Now, I’m not saying that you should take your chances with a blind, slow shark (Greenland sharks are known to indulge in the occasional polar bear carcass), only that its presence in the Caribbean holds no real significance for the average person.

As for why an Arctic shark is sunning in the Caribbean, according to FIU, “The waters where Kasana and the fishermen found the shark certainly get deep…there’s a steep slope that drops from 1,600 feet to 9,500 feet deep, which means there is cold water needed for a Greenland shark to thrive.”