A Greenland shark, pictured, was found recently near Belize by researchers from Florida International University. Photo by Devanshi Kasana/Florida International University
Aug. 2 (UPI) -- An 11-foot Greenland shark, known to inhabit the Arctic, was recently captured off the shores of Belize in Central America, surprising researchers on an expedition to tag tiger sharks.
The scientists wrote about the encounter of the Greenland shark, which can live up to 500 years, in the July edition of Marine Biology.
"While the exact species could not be confirmed, it is most likely a Greenland shark or a hybrid between the Greenland shark and the Pacific sleeper shark," the researchers wrote in the journal.
"This is the first record of a sleeper shark in the western Caribbean region and further supports the hypothesis that these sharks, best known from polar and subpolar latitudes, occur at depth in tropical regions."
Devanshi Kasana, a doctoral candidate at the Florida International University Predator Ecology and Conservation lab, said they were stunned and puzzled initially about their discovery.
"At first, I was sure it was something else, like a six-gill shark that are well known from deep waters off coral reefs," Kasana said in a statement from the university. "I knew it was something unusual and so did the fishers, who hadn't ever seen anything quite like it in all their combined years of fishing."
Demian Chapman, director of Sharks and Rays Conservation Research at Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium, he and Kasana reviewed their findings with Greenland shark experts before making a final determination.
The water around Glover Reef Atoll, where the Greenland shark was found, is part of the Glover's Reef Marine Reserve World Heritage Site, a marine protected area. It sits on top of a limestone platform, forming a lagoon surrounded by a coral reef.
The atoll's steep slope drops from 1,600 feet to 9,500 feet deep, which likely provides the cold water needed for a species like the Greenland shark to survive and thrive.