Mysterious giant sharks may be everywhere
October 25, 2014 4:43 PM   Subscribe

"They can be as big as great white sharks, but that's about as far as the comparison goes. Their maximum speed is a lethargic 1.7 miles per hour, many are almost blind, and they are happy to eat rotting carcasses. They may be common throughout the ocean, but you've probably never heard of them. Meet the Greenland shark." Here's video of an encounter with one.
posted by brundlefly (37 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I was relieved to discover that "everywhere" means "deep. cold water." I was briefly worried that I would have to watch out for them on the bus, in line at the grocery, and in the bath. Whew!
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:47 PM on October 25, 2014 [21 favorites]

Hey Genji, knock knock --

posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:52 PM on October 25, 2014 [10 favorites]

These are the sharks that one makes the iconic rotted shark of Iceland, Hakarl.
posted by jadepearl at 4:53 PM on October 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

"candygram" tag added.
posted by brundlefly at 4:57 PM on October 25, 2014 [14 favorites]

aw. predictable blind shark camera boop at 1:05.
posted by twist my arm at 5:02 PM on October 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

90% are blinded by a parasitic crustacean that munches on their eyeballs?

That explains why they prefer such cold waters: keeps the itching down.
posted by sourwookie at 5:03 PM on October 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

They chomp round 'plugs' outta things?

...awesome. and creepy.
posted by stubbehtail at 5:05 PM on October 25, 2014

I love this description of how the shark is not edible:
However, fishing seems unlikely to pose a major threat to the sharks. For one thing their meat is toxic, because it is rife with unsavory organic contaminants. So Greenland sharks are not regarded as a good dining option. In 1968, a group of sled dogs was fed Greenland shark flesh. Reportedly they were left walking stiffly, hyper-salivating and vomiting - not to mention having muscular convulsions, respiratory distress, and explosive diarrhoea. Some died.
The last line could have come straight out of a saga.
posted by jadepearl at 5:16 PM on October 25, 2014 [7 favorites]

Why on earth would you keep trying to eat something until you work out a months-long process to detox it? It's not even like it would save you from starving - you have to bury it for months!

Has anyone here eaten it? Calling Kattulus!
posted by winna at 5:20 PM on October 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

Look, if you can think of a better way to preserve food other than burying it on a beach and urinating on it for several months, I'd like to hear it!
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 5:35 PM on October 25, 2014 [21 favorites]

hákarl? Holy cow, I've eaten that! It is delicious, and kind of reminded me of Blu Cheese. (Someone brought some shark to a party from a trip to Europe they'd been on, and mentioned it was a poisonus shark that you fermented on a beach. I don't think there are many other contenders.
posted by Canageek at 5:38 PM on October 25, 2014 [4 favorites]

posted by brundlefly at 5:54 PM on October 25, 2014

Clearly the best survival strategy in a world dominated by humans is to be big, hard to find, ugly and difficult to eat.
posted by brundlefly at 5:55 PM on October 25, 2014 [8 favorites]

Hence my survival thus far.
posted by brundlefly at 6:10 PM on October 25, 2014 [23 favorites]

"So for a human, we didn't feel endangered because it wasn't biting us."

posted by drlith at 6:31 PM on October 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

One has to admire the perseverance of the eyeball worm that starts at the tail and works its way to the eyeball at the other end.
posted by arcticseal at 6:54 PM on October 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

Hákarl isn't that much different than other basking shark kinda prep - they all have urea and ammonia that has to be neutralized for digestibility. Think of how hungry or culinarily bored people need to be to even devise this food source. I suspect it has similar origins to surstromming, lutfisk, or even natto. Spoiled food is a cultural thing - wine, pickles and cheese all are controlled rotting too.

When I worked in the Caribbean/Tropical Atlantic, we would cut a shark into giant fillets, which we'd coil and soak in big buckets of seawater on deck. The buckets, which had metal mesh on top to keep out birds and big crabs, were in full sunlight and got quite hot. And stinky. It took changing the water 3-4x/day, about 4 days to get the fillets to the point where they could be cut into steaks or chunks and cooked, or staked on wooden boards and dried for later stewing. So, with the temperature difference accounting for much faster leaching/conversion times, similar to hákarl.

Nonetheless, makes me glad I keep kosher now.
posted by Dreidl at 7:28 PM on October 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

And another thing - we used the dried sharkskins (dried in the sun nailed to thick plywood) as fine varnishing sandpaper that didn't leave grit. Different parts of the shark have different degrees of coarseness. I think the sharkskin sanding sheets are called shagreen?

The tourists on the boats got the shark jaws/teeth, we all ate the meat and the crew used most of the hide. That still left a lot of wasted guts and frame. Given global declines in megafauna species, I wouldn't harpoon for shark again.
posted by Dreidl at 7:55 PM on October 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

A professor of mine had the Kamchatka version of rotting shark -- I don't remember exactly what sea thing it was that they rotted, but it was a delicacy that the younger people were less keen on. It was eaten with copious amounts of alcohol, unsurprisingly.
posted by jeather at 8:05 PM on October 25, 2014

This is a shark that is often found in excess of 23', and has been filmed eating a goddamn moose in a shallow river crossing way upstream.

Candy. Fucking. Gram.
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:13 PM on October 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Explains this SatW comic, then: Have a safe trip home
posted by scruss at 9:18 PM on October 25, 2014

If I came upon a shark choking to death on a piece of moose, my first instinct would never be, "Hey, let's go get a closer look!" and IN NO POSSIBLE UNIVERSE would I stick my arm down the shark's throat to yank the moose-obstruction out of the mouth of a shark.

I mean, you do you, Canada, but I worry that the cold is getting to your brain.

I like the scientist who's like, "They probably didn't need to Heimlich the shark, he probably would have survived, he was probably just digesting." Protest much?

The slow-speed swim is very soothing, though. Could watch for hours. From a safe distance, obvs, and only if it eats no moose.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:26 PM on October 25, 2014 [6 favorites]

ok i'm just gonna say it: it's incredibly cute.
posted by fingers_of_fire at 11:38 PM on October 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

The No Such Thing as a Fish podcast did a bit on the Greenland Shark recently with an extended riff on the problem of feeding oneself when you are blind, stupid, and move far slower than anything you might want to chase and eat. Conclusion: the Greenland Shark depends on food putting itself into the shark's mouth.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 1:06 AM on October 26, 2014 [5 favorites]

ok i'm just gonna say it: it's incredibly cute.

Did you see the picture of it with worms hanging out of its eyeballs? No.
posted by jeather at 5:34 AM on October 26, 2014

It has a beautifully shaped tail- I kept trying to think of a descriptor and failing. It's an elegant curve!
posted by winna at 5:54 AM on October 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Hákarl is pretty pungent stuff, but aside from the lingering aftertaste, which you can kill with a shot of something string, I do not find the flavor that offensive. It's kind of like a really stinky cheese.
posted by Nothing at 7:07 AM on October 26, 2014

I like a shot of something numeric, but that's just me.
posted by sneebler at 7:17 AM on October 26, 2014

Think of how hungry or culinarily bored people need to be to even devise this food source.

Iceland was quite poor for most of its history. Not much grows there. Also, until the early 1900s, almost all of the fishing was done in open rowboats, which is insanely dangerous in those waters.

So if pabbi keeps bringing home Greenland Shark, you're going to find a way to eat the fucking things.
posted by zjacreman at 9:20 AM on October 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

If I came upon a shark choking to death on a piece of moose, I'd be like "Holly shit sharks have evolved lungs?"
posted by Space Coyote at 4:33 PM on October 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

A life goal of mine now is to make protective goggles for Greenland shark eyes. (And figure out some other option for the Greenland shark eye worm.) Is this a bad thing?
posted by Mike Mongo at 8:17 PM on October 26, 2014

The video at the end of the story was meditative and relaxing with nice underwater sound effects. Having eaten hákarl last summer and having visited the little hákarl museum in Snæfellsness last summer, I was delighted to see the living version what I had been eating. The divers try to blast it with laser beams at the end of the clip and it has no effect. That's one tough shark!
posted by smrtsch at 8:35 PM on October 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

A professor of mine had the Kamchatka version of rotting shark
That may be the Evenks:
On the riverbanks, a waist-deep hole is dug up, approximately 1.5m by 1.5m. It's lined with freshly-cut grass,
then filled with raw salmon caught the day before. The last, top-most batch of fish is covered with a thick layer of grass and earth and tamped. This is to prevent flies from penetrating and laying eggs inside, which would spoil the fish. If the procedure is carried out right, the fish inside the pit will undergo fermentation and won't rot. As a last resort, people can eat this fish, too. However, one may faint if one is not accustomed to the sour smell the fish oozes.
posted by unliteral at 9:11 PM on October 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

also known ... by the Inuit name Eqalussuaq

which is literally translated: "Big Salmon"! (eqaluq + -suaq). I guess I can see the resemblance.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 10:05 PM on October 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Greenland Shark appears on an episode of the BBC's Human Planet where native hunters accidentally hook one while ice fishing. (Spoiler alert - the shark gets fed to their dogs - skip the end if you don't want to see the shark get killed).

The same series also has a bit on a Greenland tribe that catches sea birds, wraps them in seal stomach, and buries the whole lot to rot until they need the food in the winter. If you thought fermented shark sounded bad...
posted by Gortuk at 6:15 AM on October 27, 2014

If we're gonna talk about the Greenland shark, we need to talk about hákarl.
posted by duffell at 12:29 PM on October 27, 2014

My impression was that the Human Planet hunters were in fact after the shark, it's just that it wrapped the line around itself instead of biting the hook. So I'm rather puzzled by the bit about it being poisonous, because I certainly got the impression they were going to feed it to them raw, rather than processing it. At least, it was framed as "the dogs are hungry, so they have to go fishing" and the wrapup was that they had enough for the dogs for a couple of weeks but then they would have to go fishing again.

Found the script, and yeah, unless the writers were very confused, they were after Greenland shark:

"Today Amos Jensen and his son Karl-Frederik have to feed their dogs."

"To find the most nutritious dog food, Amos and Karl-Frederik need to travel many kilometres across the sea ice. What they're after is a real-life arctic sea monster, a Greenland shark."

"They've caught the Greenland shark they were hoping for."

"This shark is four metres long, weighs over half a ton and is the largest they've ever caught.
But it will only feed their 20 dogs for two weeks."

Poking around, it looks like maybe you just have to dry it to make it safe.

"In Greenland the flesh is dried also for dog food, and to a small extent in Iceland for human consumption. But it produces an intoxicant poisoning if eaten fresh, though it is wholesome if dried."

So maybe they had enough dried shark for a couple of weeks but need a new shark to start drying for the couple of weeks after that.
posted by tavella at 12:53 PM on October 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

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