Commercial fisher Carl Moore wasn’t sure what he had netted last week just south of Key West, Florida (map), when he saw the fish’s flat, blade-like snout. Only after the Georgia angler photographed and released his catch was its identity confirmed: It was a goblin shark, a rare deep-sea shark, and it’s believed to be only the second such specimen ever caught in the Gulf of Mexico.
“We don’t know how long they live; we don’t know how often they reproduce, or even how big they are when they reproduce,” Carlson says. “They’re a mystery.”
Moore had told NOAA he thought the shark he released was about 18 feet (5.4 meters) long. When Carlson and colleagues analyzed Moore’s photographs, they gauged the length to be more like 15 feet (4.5 meters) long. And they made an educated guess about the shark’s sex.
Carlson says male sharks have external sexual characteristics called claspers, two fin-like appendages near the tail that males use to hold on to females while mating. “From the photographs, we don’t see those, so we’re suspecting it’s a female,” he says.