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Rare Megamouth Shark Caught Off Japan’s Coast

A photo of a megamouth shark.
Fishers recently captured a rare megamouth shark, similar to the one depicted in the image above, off the coast of Japan. Photograph by Natural History Museum and Institute/Reuters

It’s been a banner month for rare shark sightings. Last week a fisher off the coast of Florida caught the second goblin shark ever seen in the Gulf of Mexico. Now reports out of Japan state that fishers have caught a 13-foot (3.9 meter) long megamouth shark, also incredibly rare, near Shizuoka, Japan (map)

This is only the 55th confirmed megamouth shark sighting since the first one was accidentally caught by a U.S. Navy research vessel off the coast of Oahu, Hawaii, in 1976. There have been several other dubious megamouth reports, says George Burgess, director of the Florida Program for Shark Research at the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville. But since researchers couldn’t confirm those sightings, Burgess considers the tally to stand at 55, including this week’s haul.


Staff at the Marine Science Museum in Shizuoka dissected the reportedly 1,500 pound (680 kilogram) megamouth (Megachasma pelagios) in a public presentation earlier this week (seen in the tweet above). The shark’s remains are on display at the museum, according to the Japan Daily Press. Fishers captured this female specimen in about 2,600 feet (792 meters) of water. (Watch video of the dissection.)

A Big Mouth

The megamouth shark’s most prominent feature is its large mouth—hence its common name. The animal uses its giant maw for filter feeding, much as whale sharks and basking sharks cruise the ocean with their mouths open, straining tiny animals called plankton out of the water, says Burgess. Small, shrimp-like animals called krill are believed to make up a large portion of the megamouth’s diet.

Records of the shark’s behavior come from observations of only two individuals. Researchers were able to affix a tag to one megamouth shark off the coast of California in 1990 and track it for two days. The male shark spent its days in 492 feet (150 meters) of water, ascending to 49 feet (15 meters) at dusk. This daily pattern of migrating up and down in the water is fairly common for open ocean animals of all sizes, says Burgess. The creatures are following food, he explains, as well as spending time in different water temperatures to maintain bodily functions like digestion or growth.

The second megamouth researchers observed was in the process of getting attacked by three sperm whales off the coast of Indonesia in 1998, according to the Florida Museum of Natural History.

The megamouth’s slow swimming speed and flabby body also make it an attractive target for other opportunists in addition to whales, such as the cookiecutter shark, Burgess says. This small shark sneaks up on animals in order to bite off chunks of flesh, leaving a crater-shaped divot behind. Some megamouths that have been examined showed evidence of scarring believed to be the result of attention from cookiecutter sharks.

A Hot Spot?

Although megamouth sharks have been found all over the world, “the area from Japan down through the Philippines and into Indonesia seems to be a hot spot,” says Burgess. This could be because the sharks are naturally abundant there, or it could be simply that, because the area is heavily fished, people are more likely to encounter a megamouth here.

Burgess’s opinion? “I think the reality,” he says, is that it’s “an area of abundance.” This part of the western Pacific Ocean, from northern Australia up to the Philippines, is thought by some researchers to be a cradle of evolution for marine animals. It’s “an absolute honey hole of diversity,” he adds, and it could be the place of origin for the megamouths.

With every megamouth shark that comes to light, scientists learn more and more about this mysterious animal. Burgess just wishes most of the sharks didn’t end up dead.

“It’s a win-lose situation,” he says. “We’re happy to get another individual to study and add to our knowledge base—but regrettably, we’ve gotten to the point where we’re killing these things.” All but one or two megamouths were dead by the time scientists got to study them.

“Much as I would love to have a sample size of 200 or 300 of these [sharks],” Burgess says, “we want to encourage fishermen to send them back overboard and just take a picture of them.”

Follow Jane J. Lee on Twitter.


  1. marc
    September 14, 2015, 6:57 pm

    It was swimming enjoying itself before human intervention at over 2600 ft deep just as in most of the sightingsd of them especially in asia it ended up dead to be sold as meat for huge profits.

    They did kill it read here and i quote the story above

    “Burgess just wishes most of the sharks didn’t end up dead.”

    “It’s a win-lose situation,” he says. “We’re happy to get another individual to study and add to our knowledge base—but regrettably, we’ve gotten to the point where we’re killing these things.” All but one or two megamouths were dead by the time scientists got to study them.

    “Much as I would love to have a sample size of 200 or 300 of these [sharks],” Burgess says, “we want to encourage fishermen to send them back overboard and just take a picture of them.”

  2. Ollie orvis
    United States
    August 7, 2014, 7:05 am


  3. chick magnet
    right behind you.
    June 19, 2014, 1:44 pm

    The Japanese, as a people are not evil poachers. Neither are we.

  4. yoyomama
    June 19, 2014, 1:35 pm

    Der fish was already dead. Read.

  5. mark p
    June 17, 2014, 3:57 am

    ok to everyone writing here you are all right but we are all guilty and not just for this disgrace but for many others like world war where we slaughtered each other for the gain of things we’ve never seen and was never able to see the millions and millions on all sides that died doing what they believed was the right thing to do. or the countless millions of acres that we all keep destroying to accommodate our needs and wants. or anything that can make an unlimited amount of money is some how ok to do now but would never had been allowed say 50 years ago. so i am going to tell all of you what the real problem is #1 is greed and the reason for this is that our planet is so over populated that a multitude of people have taken on the attitude of (im going to get mine before some one else does).and then there is the desensitization to our children of thing that they by rights should be afraid of and are not anymore.this would go along with the idea of banning bugs bunny and the road runner because its to violent and putting out game that teach you how to kill. our economy is suffering because of our population and with more people comes the very thing we do not like to see but we are going to as long as the worlds population grows as fast as it is. its really no ones fault unless we refuse to see the truth and do not do anything about it and that does not mean fighting arguing or threatening. there is no fix for any of this until we fix us. until we actually start fixing the obvious and then we will be able to let the sea creatures of this planet multiply and forest grow back. its up to us we are destroying it and we are the only creatures of this planet that can fix it. thank you

  6. Chesse buger
    over the rainbow
    May 27, 2014, 11:33 am

    That’s not a shark that is a fish that doesn’t look like he wants to be harmed it looks like a domesticated fish

  7. bob
    May 22, 2014, 2:17 am

    dear kanishka pandey rarer is not a word fyi lol I love these random comment boxes even though it doesnt matter what any of you people say you just post and post and post like you are going to change something by typing it all up and giving someone a good “talking to”. It is so funny. all this over animals none the less. You all should be ashamed in yourselves and start taking up for people like this!

  8. bob
    May 22, 2014, 2:11 am

    always wanted to try shark steak. I heard it was great! I guess I am going to Japan lol

  9. kanishka pandey
    May 16, 2014, 10:43 am

    stupid now make it more rarer

  10. Carla Delange
    May 14, 2014, 2:23 pm

    They were fishing at 800 metres depth??? Is this usual? What do you fish for at this depth? Certainly you will bring up unusual things from this depth, not your typical fish we eat day to day.

  11. Steve
    May 14, 2014, 2:22 am

    Don’t apologize to the Japanese for Americans, or anyone else for that matter, being pissed for the ignorance of a selfish fisherman. The Japanese are notorious for killing sharks and whales to the brink of extinction. It’s not racist when it’s a fact that their culture prizes endangered animals as a delicacy or medicinal benefactor. People are too sensitive about offending other people and not sensitive enough on the topic of humans, of every race, decimating other species and their habitats.

  12. J
    somewhere in unicorn land
    May 13, 2014, 8:23 pm

    For everyone who hasn’t noticed(if you did good) it was dead when they were caught it. Either that or i’m dumb. I prefer to think the first possibility.

  13. John
    May 13, 2014, 12:48 am

    I see that Americans managed to shoot the first grey wolf that has appeared in Iowa since 1925. They are hardly model conservationists – just ask any buffalo.

  14. sandra mar
    May 12, 2014, 7:04 pm

    Los Animales merecen nuestro respeto y no me parece la forma mostrar un ejemplar creo que nos pueden decir mas si se estudian en su habitat y porsupuesto VIVOS!

  15. smiley
    May 12, 2014, 6:34 pm

    What a bunch of arrogant losers that don’t know how to read if u don’t understand the article don’t comment on it people like mtr needs to wake up and learn how to read I read the whole article it stated that they would rather of kept it alive then dead to the people who did read and agree that a deep water shark or fish can’t survive on the surface there for all those people that didn’t read the article don’t bother commenting on the article

  16. Badx_xkitty
    Orlando, Fl
    May 12, 2014, 4:49 pm

    This is post is truly disappointing; it is disheartening. Why kill a “rare” shark? “For the sake of entertainment” this living creature was captured and killed; Ending all the wonder and beauty it posses to be nothing more than a lifeless carcass. . .

  17. Jill
    May 12, 2014, 2:50 pm

    I see most of the horrible, racist things being said on this article are people from the USA . . . it makes me ashamed of how unintelligent my country is, how quick we are to judge someone without first looking at ALL the facts . . . Those who have actually read and understood the article know the shark was not killed on purpose!!!!! I am very sorry, Japan, for all of the awful things my countrymen are saying about you. I know you are a nation with few natural resources, fishing being among them. Please understand that most of us Americans are very ignorant and spoiled, and will often take our stupidity to the internet. Again, please accept my humble apology.

    An American

  18. vince
    south africa
    May 12, 2014, 2:01 pm

    It is qhite a find the megamoth should be put on the indangerd spiecies list to preserve them for our futur kids they are intregine sharks

  19. mike
    Mobile, AL.
    May 12, 2014, 12:54 pm

    Dear N.G.,
    Thank you for reporting this story. I learned something today and I want to thank you for that. Please, as always, keep me posted on more interesting things that are found in this world. I have known about the mega mouth shark since I was a kid and I am determined to learn more. Keep these great articles coming!
    Capt. Mike Miele

  20. alex
    May 12, 2014, 12:39 pm

    Why are yankees talking about how japanesse killed the shark if their country killed more people in the whole world by the culture diferences? It isnt that worst than this?

  21. Junaid Waheed
    Lahore, Pakistan
    May 12, 2014, 12:03 pm

    The article does not state that the Japanese has the intention to catch this rare shark. Most probably its by accident. Catching this big fish is also not good for the fisherman, actually it can be a loss for the business.

    Anyway, good work NG and JJL. Keep up the good work.

  22. Ann
    May 12, 2014, 11:58 am

    So….if it is rare why do you kill them? Seems to me they should be saved. Is there honor in killing everything in your path?? I thought the Japanese were all about honor?? Oh no…..that’s not right, I’m thinking of someone else……

  23. Tyroil Smoochie-Wallace
    May 12, 2014, 11:47 am

    Are some of you people actually able to read and properly comprehend the article.
    1) The shark was ACCIDENTALLY caught by a US Navy research vessel.
    2) National Geographic had nothing to do with this other than report it.
    3) Although not in the article, this shark is mesoplegiac and when surfaced, it is extremely rare that they can be returned to the ocean since their bodies are designed for much higher pressures than at the surface.

  24. Mia O' Connell
    May 12, 2014, 10:36 am

    Beautiful shark. They are so cool. It’s a pity that it was killed. I wish people would stop hunting sharks. They’re upsetting the ecosystems by over fishing. And now they’re going and killing the sharks that are rare and that they won’t even eat.

  25. Justin L
    May 12, 2014, 10:32 am

    Another death of a majestic creature in the name of Japanese “research.” I’m sure the dorsal fin of a Megamouth shark fetched a hefty price for the key ingredient in an ultra-rare preparation of shark fin soup…

  26. Tanner
    Georgia United States
    May 12, 2014, 10:31 am

    Everyone of y’all postin on here obviously didn’t read because it says it died and would much rather of had it put back to sea .On the the other hand y’all are all bunny hungers what happens when animals get overpopulated and start killing humans what are you gonna say that’s part of life not you have to kill to keep control of the population .This shark couldn’t have been put back once a shark is brang out of the sea it most likely dies and they didn’t set out to catch this shark either I’m sure they were fishing for tuna .Before y’all start blaming people that kills animals might wanna thank them because animals will humans they are not innocent all the time

  27. Greenscene
    May 12, 2014, 10:23 am

    Nice of you to do what humans will do kill then talk about how great you are. What a waste of life.

  28. Unknown
    United States
    May 12, 2014, 10:09 am

    Maybe I’m stupid but where does it say they killed it? Wasn’t it already dead?

  29. Avi gurung
    May 12, 2014, 10:06 am

    Stop it there nothing we call research by killing it is just killing and killng -_-

  30. Tina W
    May 12, 2014, 10:00 am

    People should read the story again. The shark was dead when they got it. It wasn’t national geographic. They didn’t decided oh hey its a super rare shark let’s not let it go and just kill it……it was caught by fishers and more than likely died being pulled to the surface so quickly. Or just simple got caught in a net.

  31. MMJ
    Houston, Texas
    May 12, 2014, 10:00 am

    The following was so well put (along with others on this thread) that I will simply repost as my protest and request for NG to report these actions as the horrors they are. Thank you, MTR EC.
    MTR EC
    United States
    9:00 am

    Why keep killing for no reason except to promote their own agendas and make money? These disgusting people are the same type that kill our precious species and are destroying our earth – rhino horn for impotence or a gorilla’s hand for an ashtray or let’s kill dolphins by trapping them in a cove – barbarians were more civilized. National Geographic really should not show this as a scientific discovery but as a senseless act of violence.

  32. Emma De Leon
    May 12, 2014, 9:58 am

    Pero en Japon matan todo, como la masacre de delfines en Tiaji junto con la CIB que masacra ballenas, osea hasta cuando las instacias internacionales van a intervenir y poner un alto

  33. C
    May 12, 2014, 9:11 am

    Stop killing animals for your own agenda! National Geographic, by showing this you are just giving the people what they want: publicity!

  34. Karen Stevens
    May 12, 2014, 9:08 am

    Once again something rare and we go and KILL it. We dont deserve to live among any other species on this planet..

  35. MTR EC
    United States
    May 12, 2014, 9:00 am

    Why keep killing for no reason except to promote their own agendas and make money? These disgusting people are the same type that kill our precious species and are destroying our earth – rhino horn for impotence or a gorilla’s hand for an ashtray or let’s kill dolphins by trapping them in a cove – barbarians were more civilized. National Geographic really should not show this as a scientific discovery but as a senseless act of violence.

  36. Benua Carles
    May 12, 2014, 8:50 am

    How long from rare to disappeared?

  37. Laura Norris
    May 12, 2014, 8:22 am

    Most species wouldn’t be so rare if they were left in the sea long enough to reproduce!

  38. ishmael jolofan
    May 12, 2014, 8:06 am

    That thing is rare, why killing such a precious shark, it will soon be extinct, does that make sense?

  39. Jaskirat Singh Nagra
    May 12, 2014, 7:58 am

    So you find something rare … You kill it. What good does it do to anyone.

  40. joe
    May 12, 2014, 7:51 am

    because killing rare things is what we are good at in japan

  41. hüseyin
    May 12, 2014, 7:17 am

    keşke bizim karadenizde bu balıklarda yaşasa

  42. Arvin Divino
    May 12, 2014, 7:04 am

    It’s RARE Shark and need to kill it for study??
    What’s wrong with you people.

  43. Rachel mccoy
    May 12, 2014, 6:38 am

    I really hope their breeding ground is not off the the coast of Japan somewhere or they are screwed! Get your crap together Japan

  44. bulent kıraz
    May 12, 2014, 6:36 am

    This can be hellish world of humanity

  45. You Yamada
    May 12, 2014, 6:21 am

    Once the deep-sea fish rise near the surface of the sea, they can’t live anymore, even if you free it to the sea.

  46. jim
    May 12, 2014, 6:09 am

    That’s right.. the rare shark was discovered to be there and they killed it! You dirty rats!

  47. Kate
    May 12, 2014, 6:08 am

    Why do an article on a dead fish. I was excited thinking NG had put on a tracking device and marine biologists would continue to gove us updates. Not some bloody mass of an endangered species. Very Upset!!!

  48. aman
    May 12, 2014, 6:07 am


  49. Ramsey
    May 12, 2014, 5:57 am

    Shouldn’t National Geographic be covering the epidemic of needlessly killing rare animals for show? While the animal is rare, I would hope that nat geo cover rare animals in their natural habitat, alive, and not bloody in the hands of hunters.

  50. Felipe
    May 12, 2014, 5:51 am

    It’s amazing how the Japanese kill ever ting. Like whales and rare fishes.

  51. VSSinger
    May 12, 2014, 5:41 am

    It’s Rare so you kill it! What for? Obviously, to KEEP it Rare and to say Japan participated in the extinction. #Shame

  52. David
    May 12, 2014, 5:11 am

    These people are stupid. Why kill this animal? Human’s are so cruel. Just leave animals alone.

  53. Lisa
    May 12, 2014, 5:08 am

    Even rarer now that they’ve killed one. Needless and cruel.. I’m embarrassed that humans behave so badly.

  54. rebecca
    May 12, 2014, 5:04 am

    Every time I see a picture of a rare creature we killed, I believe a little more in unicorns.

  55. Jan Koel
    May 12, 2014, 4:35 am

    And ofcourse, since it is so rare we have to catch it. Perhaps it helps to boost your sexlife! Not strange that it has been caught by the Japanese.

  56. romeo f. pilola
    ros. 6, pasig, philippines
    May 12, 2014, 4:34 am

    I may be way off tangent, but may we consider the ocean nuclear/atomic experimental explosion a factor to these radioactive-related abnormalities among our marine animals???

  57. Paul Andrews
    Oxford, UK
    May 12, 2014, 4:20 am

    Ah,, That’s odd.. Must be rare… I know, Let’s kill it… Bloody People…

  58. Natasha Silva
    The Netherlands
    May 12, 2014, 3:56 am

    Please, please … Catch & Release. We should do our utmost best to respect all forms of Life.

  59. Pippa Clayton
    United Kingdom
    May 12, 2014, 3:51 am

    How lucky that the cradle of evolution for marine life is situated next to these countries that have no intention of protecting it!! They are clearly not in abundance with so little sightings so why say that? Disgusted once again by this country

  60. Vijay Ratna Shakya
    May 12, 2014, 3:37 am

    All the Scientists were the Criminal. Once they saw any things they try to preserve it not by taking it in their own state, they k ul lled it as specimen…

  61. Pauline Bunner
    United Kingdom
    May 12, 2014, 3:11 am

    Evidence once again of Man’s determination to kill anything and everything. One day, people will wake up and only hear the sound of silence! No Animals/birds/wildlife etc. etc. This Shark should haveen released back into the deep.

  62. Disheartened
    May 12, 2014, 2:37 am

    What is wrong with us!?
    Or more so “THEM” the thing is Rare and what do you do? Kill it.
    Just brilliant, so intelligent and smart of you….. IDIOTS!

    The earth is here for us all to share, but no the smartest most intelligent species on the planet is certain to destroy the lot and leave a barren rubbish tip. Our great great grandchildren will be so proud!

  63. Adam Ellison
    May 12, 2014, 2:21 am

    Why did they have to kill it?

  64. ThinkbeforeyouType
    May 12, 2014, 1:40 am

    Ignorance is bliss.

    Most likely when they caught it, it was already dead or dying.

    It’s not likely that when they fishing they said, “Oh, let’s hope we get a Megamouth today! I’m dying to kill one of those!”
    You idiots.

    So they didn’t put it back into the ocean to let it rot, the put it in a museum. That’s why they said that it was a win-lose situation. For the love of God, did you people even read the article before getting all mad?

  65. mauro
    May 12, 2014, 1:27 am

    First: kill…. then, maybe, think…. 🙁

  66. sharlin benitez
    mexico df
    May 12, 2014, 12:45 am

    claro matar a un tiburon super extraño y único es la solución para saber mas de él como no lo había pensado antes

  67. ajain
    May 11, 2014, 12:35 pm

    why to kill the rarest one

  68. Mick Pearmain
    May 11, 2014, 10:55 am

    Well done now this Shark is even rarer.

  69. Michael
    United Kingdom
    May 11, 2014, 9:09 am

    And now they’re even rarer.

  70. Ima Ryma
    May 11, 2014, 4:35 am

    Just once in my watery life,
    I came in contact with life form,
    Humans – well known to cause such strife,
    Avoiding humans is the norm.
    Got caught up in a fishing net,
    Down southern California way.
    First megamouth shark captured yet,
    I did not have too much to say.
    They stuck a radio on me
    To transmit that real deep I go,
    So humans and I rarely see
    Each other for long – doncha know!

    Humans consume the world and all,
    And their mouths are so very small.

  71. Safwan JE
    May 11, 2014, 3:55 am

    Imam Ali (AS): People are enemies of that which they do not know.

  72. slap happy
    your mom
    May 11, 2014, 12:02 am

    Hey… We get it. You all are upset. Do something if you don’t like it! Posting your disapproval on this website doesn’t mean anything!


  73. luciano
    sal island cape verde
    May 10, 2014, 7:24 pm

    Humans kills everything they need and dont need, they just to be superior, dont want to understand the meeaning of balance in tthis planet .
    in cape verde they kill thousannds of sharks every year,, betwen chinese,japanese and spnaish boats it is a real disaster , SOS green peace ,please

  74. Dave Musgrave
    Brisbane, Australia
    May 10, 2014, 6:51 pm

    Certainly is a lot of uninformed opinion and blatant racism against the Japanese on this comment board…

  75. Walt
    May 10, 2014, 5:55 pm

    Why do the Japanese insist on killing everything? For a country without a true Army, they are extremely graphic towards animals.

    It is disgusting.

  76. i hate you all
    somewhere special
    May 10, 2014, 4:00 pm

    you are horrible people.i get it you want knowledge thats great and all but killing an animal to do it is a horrible thing .just because you say that you dont want anyone to capture them doesnt mean that you dont. Honestly thats just like aliens envading our planet and then taking your child because they want to know more about it. so next time you murdering people are experimenting on a live animal or you take an animal from its home think about your child getting kidnapped

  77. Sean Nolan
    May 10, 2014, 1:50 pm

    megamouth shark will be supplementing the whalemeat in Japan soon!

  78. Andrew Booth
    May 10, 2014, 1:07 pm

    Where have these strange terms ‘fisher’ and ‘fishers’ come from? Fishermen is the usual term used here.

  79. Aleah Benson
    United States
    May 10, 2014, 12:45 pm

    How many are still left in the wild.Incredible picture!

  80. Paul
    May 10, 2014, 11:12 am

    Poor Mick Jagger

  81. Dr REL
    May 10, 2014, 10:33 am

    “Oh look! Something unusual! Let’s kill it!”

  82. Martin
    May 10, 2014, 1:31 am

    My 8 year-old just asked after reading the article, “why do people always kill things if they are so rare?” Good point. I had no answer.

  83. Angry
    May 9, 2014, 8:47 pm

    Isn’t it “cool” how when we over fish the oceans, all of the rare species have to go outside their normal habitat for food.

    Maybe a scientist can invent a fish that eats plastic.

  84. ray lkoving
    San Diego
    May 9, 2014, 8:04 pm

    Why do we have to kill everything alive on this planet. The more rare it is, the more we seek to kill it to take a picture of it.

  85. Concerned
    May 9, 2014, 7:51 pm

    Wow, isn’t that neat the rare shark they killed. It’s just about as neat as the other super rare animal those other guys killed… Nice article NG. Your earning your pages of oil, chemical, and pharma ads by showing your true stripes. NG = Pretty pictures for small minds.

  86. Rare
    May 9, 2014, 7:38 pm

    Great “Rare Shark” so what do the humans do? Kill it! Way to go!

  87. John B. Cary
    Benicia, CA
    May 9, 2014, 7:21 pm

    Past history has shown that there have been sightings of megamouth sharks a few days before a Godzilla attack on a major coastal city.

  88. c.a.c
    May 9, 2014, 7:05 pm

    Why is it that when the US generally catches a ‘rare shark’ or fish, like the goblin shark in FL, they put it back, and when the Japanese catch a rare shark, like this one any many others, they kill it? Many whales and dolphins too…

  89. Aaron
    Long Beach, Ca
    May 9, 2014, 6:37 pm

    How long do you think before megamouth shark will be in every Japanese and Chinese menu?

  90. Eco Friendly
    May 9, 2014, 6:25 pm

    If our goal is to kill every species on the planet, killing super rare sharks until they are extint is a good way to start.


  91. Mike Smith
    May 9, 2014, 6:06 pm

    The Japanese continue to over fish and kill anything they don’t need.