An arctic-native shark has been found thousands of miles south in the Caribbean

An arctic-native shark has been found thousands of miles south in the Caribbean

Baffled scientists are trying to figure out what an Arctic-native basking shark was doing thousands of miles south of its frigid home in vastly warmer waters.

Researchers from Florida International University and the Belize Department of Fisheries recently spotted a Greenland shark, which normally lives in the frigid waters of the Arctic, in the tropical waters of the Caribbean Sea while working with local Belizean fishermen to tag tiger sharks, according to a press dismissal from college.

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The shark was swimming near the Belize Barrier Reef, the second-longest barrier reef in the world, the scientists said. The discovery marks the first time a shark of this species has been found in western Caribbean waters.

Devanshi Kasana, a marine biologist at FIU and a Ph.D. Candidate in the university’s Predator Ecology and Conservation Lab initially thought she was looking at a sixgill shark known to live in the deep waters off coral reefs.

“I knew it was something unusual and so did the fishermen who had never seen anything like it in all their years of fishing,” Kasana said in a statement.

PHOTO: A Greenland shark, normally found in the Arctic, has been found thousands of miles south in Belize.  (Devanshi Kasana/Florida International University.)

PHOTO: A Greenland shark, normally found in the Arctic, has been found thousands of miles south in Belize. (Devanshi Kasana/Florida International University.)

Kasana then consulted with her advisor and other shark experts and texted with a photo of the creature. The final finding was that it “definitely” belonged to the sleeper shark family because of its size and was most likely a Greenland shark or a mix of a Greenland shark and a Pacific sleeper shark, according to the FIU.

It is unclear whether the researchers were able to tag the shark.

“This discovery is so exciting because it suggests that these ancient predators may roam the world’s oceans from the poles to the equator, but reside very deep in tropical waters,” said Kasana, who is still in Belize, in a per Email statement sent to ABC News. “It feels great to be a part of this and to be part of what could be the first step in protecting sleeper sharks in this region.”

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Little is known about the Greenland shark. The semi-blind shark feeds on polar bear carcasses and can live up to 250 and maybe even 500 years, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, making it the longest-lived vertebrate known to science.

Greenland sharks are also huge in size, measuring up to 23 feet in length and weighing up to 1.5 tons, according to National Geographic.

“Because little is known about them, nothing can be definitively ruled out about the species,” the scientists said. “Greenland sharks could be trolling the depths of the ocean around the world.”

PHOTO: A Greenland shark (Somniosus microcephalus) is photographed with a remote control vehicle in the Arctic Ocean, circa 2000s.  (ITV via Shutterstock, FILE)

PHOTO: A Greenland shark (Somniosus microcephalus) is photographed with a remote control vehicle in the Arctic Ocean, circa 2000s. (ITV via Shutterstock, FILE)

Bowhead sharks, or Somniosus microcephalus, are listed as vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species. The main threats they face are climate change and severe weather causing their habitats to change and shift, as well as fishing and harvesting.

Hakarl, fermented greenland shark or other sleeper sharks, is an Icelandic national dish. Greenland shark meat is poisonous until it is dried and fermented for four or five months, giving off a strong odor and taste of ammonia.

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Kasana stressed that the discovery of the bowhead shark was a collaborative effort by members of the Belize shark fishing community, the Belizean Fisheries Ministry and researchers at the FIU.

The Belize government recently designated three atolls, including Glover’s Reef, where the Greenland shark was found, and the deeper waters around it as shark sanctuaries. This declaration will help keep animals, including undetected animals that may be roaming the waters around Glover’s Reef, safe, Kasana said.

“Great discoveries and conservation can happen when fishermen, scientists and the government work together,” said Beverly Wade, director of the Blue Bond and Finance Permanence Unit in the Belize Prime Minister’s Office. “We can really improve on what we can do individually, while still doing great conservation work and making amazing discoveries like this.”

An arctic-native shark found thousands of miles south in the Caribbean originally appeared on abcnews.go.com

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