It’s a one-in-a-mega-million find.
Taiwanese fishermen caught the attention of the scientific community after catching an elusive megamouth shark, known as Megachasma pelagios, in 2018. Now, that particular specimen is sitting on a giant block of ice at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, where it will hopefully shed light on the bizarre, big-headed predator, reported Smithsonian Magazine.
“When it comes to sharks, they’re probably one of the most unique and weird-looking species,” said Paul Clerkin, a researcher at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science who obtained the specimen in Taiwan. “Their mouth just keeps opening and their upper jaw closes like a convertible hood.”
Not only that, but megamouth is the world’s most elusive shark – having only been sighted around 70 times worldwide since they were first accidentally discovered by the US Navy in 1976, according to CNN.
Obtaining an intact specimen of the filter feeder — which is the world’s third-largest with its size measuring 17 feet — is nearly unthinkable. “You almost never hear about a megamouth being transported to a museum, especially in the United States,” said Clerkin. “Almost everything that we know about them, we’ve had to learn from dead specimens that are usually preserved.”
To take advantage of the rare find, Clerkin and other researchers will scramble to gather all the data and samples they can before the specimen decomposes.
The researchers’ goal is to provide a “better idea of megamouth’s life history” as they don’t yet understand “their full role in marine ecosystems or how sensitive they are to human-made pressures,” he said
After the study is finished, the specimen will be preserved with formaldehyde and ethyl alcohol for long-term storage along with more than 6 million other specimens in the museum’s Division of Fishes collections.
“One hundred years from now, someone might say we want to look at the megamouth and it will be available,” gushed Dr. Lynne Parenti, curator of Indo-Pacific Freshwater and Coastal Fishes at the museum. “Even if we never ever collect one again, we’ll still know that megamouth sharks existed on Earth at this time.”
Kids check out a stuffed megamouth shark on display at a museum in Japan.AFP via Getty Images