Scientist freaks out over rare Greenland shark caught on camera

Chuck Bednar for – Your Universe Online
A National Geographic mechanical engineer was rewarded for his dedication when, after sitting through three hours of largely uneventful deep-sea video footage, he caught a brief glimpse of a rare Greenland shark swimming in a region where the species had never been seen before.
The engineer, Alan Turchik, was working as part of a 2013 project documenting the marine biodiversity of Franz Josef Land, a collection of nearly 200 islands located north of the Barents Sea. The expedition was funded and led by the National Geographic Pristine Seas project, and the findings were published earlier this month in the journal Peer J.

During the course of that research, Turchik was reviewing footage from a remote camera when he spotted the rare shark – a “baby” that was only about 6.5 feet (two meters) long. It was found in the Russian high Arctic, marking the first time a member of its species had been observed that far north, and resulted in a joyous, not-PG-rated reaction that was also caught on film.
According to Newsweek, little is known about Greenland sharks, other than the fact that they can grow up to 21 feet in length, have poor vision and is known for its methodical travel pace. Its meat is known to contain a toxic chemical known as TMAO, which experts say helps stabilize the proteins in its blood. As a result, there is no commercial market for the creature’s meat.
“Sled dogs fed Greenland shark meat exhibited symptoms including stumbling, vomiting, convulsions, and explosive diarrhea,” explained National Geographic’s Jane J. Lee. “The chemical is not unique to Greenland sharks, but why their flesh causes such problems while other shark meat doesn’t is a mystery.”
So little is known about the sharks that Greg Skomal, a senior marine fisheries scientist at Massachusetts Marine Fisheries who was not involved in the project, told Lee that “almost anything you ask me I’ll probably have trouble [answering],” including where they give birth, how big they are when they’re born, or how large they ultimately can grow. “These are really basic questions about an animal that we know virtually nothing about.”
This marks the first time that Greenland sharks have been found in the vicinity of Franz Josef Land, an uninhabited archipelago located north of mainland Russia and east of the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard. Members of the species had previously been sighted off Norway, Greenland, eastern Canada and the northeastern US as far south as South Carolina.
As for the video of Turchik’s priceless reaction, it turns out that it was captured by sheer serendipity, according to Lee. Cameraman Michael Pagenkopf had been trying to record members of the expedition team working on the boat for a film detailing their research, and happened to be recording the engineer reviewing video when the shark first appeared.
“There is nothing more exciting than a new scientific discovery, but what’s often overlooked in the frenzy of such an event are the years – sometimes decades – of monotonous experimentation and meticulous revision leading up to it,” said Motherboard contributor Becky Ferreira. “The NatGeo video provides a neat little microcosm of the process redacted into two minutes.”
“The video provided a welcome window into the world of this strange animal. But by making Turchik a subject of the film too, it also showcased a taste of the boom-and-bust cycle of scientific research, punctuated with a healthy dose of profanity,” she added.
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