Megamouth shark (Megachasma pelagios)

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassChondrichthyes
OrderLamniformes
FamilyMegachasmidae
GenusMegachasma (1)
SizeLength: 4 - 5 m (2)
Weight800 kg (2)

The megamouth shark is classified as Data Deficient (DD) on the IUCN Red List (1).

The megamouth shark (Megachasma pelagios) is one of the most mysterious and least understood of all the sharks. It was first recorded in 1976 and is so different from other shark lineages that it has been placed in its own family: Megachasmidae (3). Megamouth sharks can reach over 5 metres in length (4); the head is large with a short snout and, as the name would suggest, an extremely large mouth (5). The mouth contains over 50 rows of very small, hooked teeth. The body is tapered with a fleshy appearance; it is a blackish-brown colour above and white below (3). There are two unequal sized dorsal fins and the tail has a longer upper lobe (3).

Megamouth sharks have been reported from the Indian, Pacific and Atlantic Oceans (3).

Found in the open ocean, the megamouth shark is believed to occur at depths of 150 to 1,000 metres (4).

Since its discovery in 1976, only 17 sightings have been recorded of this elusive fish (3) and the majority of these have been of dead specimens; either accidentally caught or stranded individuals (5). Consequently, very little is known of the megamouth shark's natural ecology and behavioural observations have only been possible from the tagging of one individual for a brief two-day period in 1990 (3). This shark was observed to undergo vertical migrations, spending the day in deep water and ascending to midwater at night; it is likely that this migration is undertaken in response to the movements of prey species such as krill (3). Megamouth sharks are thought to feed by swimming through groups of small prey items with their mouths open; however, no direct observations have yet been achieved (3).

The lack of data concerning either the distribution or behaviour of megamouth sharks makes it particularly difficult to assess the severity and types of threats faced by this species. A number of specimens have been caught accidentally as by-catch of deepwater fishing methods and it is likely that this practice will increasingly affect population numbers (4).

A greater understanding of the mysterious megamouth shark, a giant of the deep, is urgently required before the necessity for any conservation measures can be properly realised or implemented.

For further information on the megamouth shark see:

For further information on the conservation of sharks and rays see:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

  1. IUCN Red List (January, 2008)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org
  2. Reef Quest Centre for Shark Research (April, 2003)
    http://www.elasmo-research.org/education/shark_profiles/m_pelagios.htm
  3. Florida Museum of Natural History (April, 2003)
    http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/fish/Gallery/Descript/Megamouth/megamouth.htm
  4. Fishbase (April, 2003)
    http://www.fishbase.org
  5. Australia Museum online (April, 2003)
    http://www.amonline.net.au/fishes/fishfacts/fish/megamouth.htm