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Shark Found!

7th May 2014

On 4th October Ann Suter and her husband were walking
along the Northumberland coast on holiday, when
they reached the southern end of Embleton Bay, near
Dunstanburgh Castle. Ann recalls “We saw a large object
on the beach. When we approached closer it proved to be a
shark. It was really strange to see such a large animal on the
beach, maybe 2.5 metres long. The shark seemed freshly
dead as the flesh was soft and it was still oozing blood. It
showed no obvious signs of injury and must have been
washed up on the high tide. I thought it was such a shame
that it was dead on the beach and I had no idea that such a
large shark could be found in northern British waters.”

The Shark Trust identified it as a Greenland Shark, and
according to their website it is a regular winter visitor to deep
British waters to the north of Scotland and Ireland, although
occasional records also exist from the North Sea. How and
why this shark ended up in Embleton Bay is of considerable
interest: previous specimens caught in the North Sea were
taken later in the year when sea temperatures are much
colder as they prefer waters of 0.6 – 12°C. Furthermore,
around the British Isles the Greenland Shark is rarely
encountered in shallow coastal waters, found primarily at
depths of up to 1200m.

The Greenland Shark can grow to 7 metres and is listed as
Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List, due to population
declines and its biological inability to cope with sustained
fishing pressure. Remarkably, female Greenland Sharks
do not breed until they are 100 years old, with individuals
thought to live for over 150 years. The shark washed up on
Embleton beach may be the result of a fisheries discard,
however natural causes could also be responsible.

The Keeper of Biology at the Great North Museum: Hancock
was involved in securing the shark and transferring it to
freezer facilities at Newcastle University’s Dove Marine
Laboratory in Whitley Bay. We don’t have the facilities to
preserve the shark and it seems likely that this task will be
carried out by the Natural History Museum in London but
we hope that we will be able to retain material from this
specimen for our permanent collection.