Freakish, Caribou-Eating Creature Haunts the Arctic Deep

By Lizzie Buchen | May 6, 2008 3:56 pm

freak-shark.jpg According to Inuit myth, a urine-soaked cloth was once whipped from an old lady’s hand and carried out to sea, where it turned into a sea monster called “skalugsuak.” Of its legendary peculiarities, skalugsuak lives for 200 years, has thousands of teeth, weighs over a ton, eats caribou whole, has skin that can destroy human flesh, and possesses—in place of eyes—living, glowing creatures which lure its prey.

But skalugsuak isn’t a fable—it’s a real shark, whose flesh is so packed with urea that it smells and tastes like urine. Commonly known as the Greenland shark, the animal is the second largest carnivorous shark (after the Great White), and the apex predator of the eastern Arctic. When their carcasses have washed up, scientists have opened their stomachs to find eels, sharks, beluga whales, dog, horse, reindeer, and a lot of fish, and they’ve even been reported to hunt caribou in the manner of a crocodile ambush. But despite seeming like a pretty awesome research subject to tell your friends about, very little work is currently being conducted on the smelly monster, and virtually nothing is known about its behavior.

Now Canadian scientists of the University of Windsor have taken on the task of tagging Greenland sharks to track their living conditions and location. Despite living at depths of over a mile, the animal doesn’t play too hard to get when it surfaces—it can be dragged out of the water with one’s bare hands.

Image: Christine Williams

  • Bruce

    Where, pray tell, would a bottom feeding shark find a horse in the eastern arctic?

  • Alexina Kublu

    Actually the Inuktitut name for the shark is iqalugjuaq. Although the name seems to literally mean ‘big fish’ it is the lexical term for shark

  • http://discovermagazine.com/ Lizzie Buchen

    Thanks for the correction Alexina.

    Good question Bruce. The shark’s range apparently extends from the Arctic and Northern Europe down to Georgia (the country). Maybe a horse was thrown overboard from a ship, a la horse latitudes, dropping a nice equine carcass in the shark’s path? Or perhaps the sharks can attack horses crocodile style, as has been proposed for caribou.

    But no one really knows much about the sharks’ behavior—it isn’t even known whether they catch live seals, or just eat them when they’ve already died. Hopefully this research will shed some light on these bizarre beasts.

  • teemotee

    I don’t know about the myth, but that sure sounds like it is a real creature from my peoples who have “described” this big fish.In fact there are alot of myths that my people have I believe some but this shark is defenitely the skaluguak.

  • Sheldon Valeda

    Deep sea sharks ambushing land mammals seems highly unlikely. Crocodiles can wait for mammals to stop for a drink, but obviously caribou, dogs, and horses, won’t be drinking from any body of salt water! If these sharks are major scavengers, which seems likely if they are blind, they may come across mammal carcasses on occasion, I suppose.

  • Madness

    Sounds awefully ‘tabloidy’ to me. Maybe this article would better suit The Enquirer. I would have liked more science and less myth. Interesting none the less.

  • Ed Kellins

    Actually there has been a documentary on the Greenland Shark, several have been caught over the years on the Saguenay River in Quebec, Canada. The unique thing about this river is that since it empties into the St Lawrence River, at a point where it contains a large percentage of salt water. The Saguenay is fresh water on top and salt water in it’s depths. The Greenland Shark is usually caught in the winter when the water is colder… Hope this answers some of the above questions, the film is called “Jurassic Shark (2000) documentary by Jacinth O’Donnell”

  • http://yahoo margaret lobera

    can a Greenland shark live in fresh water. and if so where were they sighted?

  • Amazin

    Margaret, I’m pretty sure that it has been found in rivers, I’m not exactly sure where though. :)

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