A rare megamouth shark has been caught in waters off the coast of Japan. The animal was caught accidentally by fishermen.
An autopsy was performed on the 1,500 pound female shark, while onlookers watched the proceedings. Biologists believe the animal lived around 2,600 feet underwater.
Despite their large mouths, the docile animals are filter-feeders who consume vast quantities of krill to survive. Mouths are used to filter large quantities of water, straining out the small, protein-rich organisms. They are believed to grow to about 17 feet in length.
Megamouth sharks are rarely seen by humans, but they are known to inhabit the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans. They have only been spotted 13 times in waters off Japan. Sperm whales are their only known predator which can stretch more than 60 feet in length.
A fishing expedition off the coast of the Philippines also accidentally caught one of the rare animals in a fishing net. The 1,100 pound creature died after capture, and was brought to shore. There, the shark was butchered and eaten.
By examining this specimen, biologists hope to uncover information about the species. They also hope to learn about how the reclusive animals behave deep underwater.
"Along the inner lining of its gills are rows of cartilage-cored, finger-like gill rakers, which the animal almost certainly uses to strain food from the surrounding seawater. Known prey of the Megamouth Shark consists entirely of animals [that eat plankton], Yet most plankton is found near the surface, so it is something of a mystery how Megamouth manages to find enough to eat," Elasmo Research, a group dedicated to shark education, wrote on their website.
Just a few days ago, fishermen in the Gulf of Mexico caught an elusive goblin shark, which was the first ever captured in those waters. That animal survived the ordeal, and was released back into its native habitat.
More than 1,500 people gathered to watch the autopsy of the megamouth shark. Now, the remains are on display at the museum.