When most people think about our wildlife in the High Arctic it is our mammals that get all the attention. Polar Bear, Narwhal, Bowhead Whale, Beluga, Ringed Seal, Bearded Seal and the like all spring to mind first when you think about our oceanic fauna. So its not on very many people's radar that we have sharks up here.
Well, shark. The Greenland Shark (Somniosus microcephalus) lives in these water, and is abundant here. I've never seen a live one, but a lot of people have. They are regularly seen just off the shore, and if you're in a place where there are carcasses laying about, say Narwhal carcasses, they congregate. For while these sharks are predators, and will take all manner of prey, they gain much of their food by scavenging.
The two I've seen have been right here in Arctic Bay, the latest a week ago. There have been large concentrations of sea-run char here this year, and many people have nets out. Attached at shore they jut out into the bay. Fresh char has been plentiful this summer. Usually its abundant in the Spring. One of these nets accidentally caught a much larger fish, a Greenland Shark that cruised the shallows looking for scraps.
This shark is a smallish one, about 9 feet. But, excluding the filter feeding Basking and Whale Sharks, the Greenland Shark is the second largest shark in the world, after the Great White Shark. The Greenland Shark will grow to 24 feet, and over 3,000 pounds. That's a big predator to have at your feet. A friend was standing on a small point jutting into Admiralty Inlet when a large one appeared at her feet. She beat a hasty retreat. There are reports of them taking caribou crossing stream mouths, but that may likely just be legends.
There are many unusual things about this fish, one of them is that about 90 percent in the Arctic are mostly blind. They are parasitized by a Copapod that attaches itself to their cornea. The sharks apparently do just find with their other senses, perhaps a testament to the time they spend in the dark and the deep sunless depths of the ocean. They are also suspected of having a very slow growth rate. One individual captured, tagged, and later re-captured was found to have only grown about a centimetre a year in length. If that was a constant then the largest individuals are extremely long lived. Although I suspect that the rate is variable. Like many sharks they are also ovoviviparous, meaning their eggs develop and hatch inside the female, and she give birth to live pups.