Greenland Shark
Worldwide Distribution

Scientific Name
Somniosus microcephalus
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Chondrichtyes
Subclass: Elasmobranchii
Order: Squaliformes
Family: Somniosidae
Genus and Species: Somniosus Microcephalus
Species Authority: (Bloch and Schneider, 1801)
North Atlantic and Arctic
Occurrence in Canadian Waters
Population Trend
Interaction with Humans
High bycatch and discard rate in bottom fisheries
Conservation Status
IUCN Global: Near Threatened (2006)
Fisheries Vulnerability: Very High


The Greenland shark is a large, long-living, cold water dwelling shark which may reach 3.5 to 5 metres or 11 to 16 feet in length. While its colouration may vary, adults can be brown, black, purplish grey or slate grey.

While many aspect of its life history remain a mystery, tagging studies suggest that this shark is an extremely slow growing animal, in some cases only growing one centimetre a year.


This cold water shark inhabits the deep waters of the Arctic and sub-Arctic. During the winter months, these sharks may be seen near the surface or at the edge of ice flows. They are commonly found at depths of around 200 metres. During the summer months, these sharks retreat to greater depths where water temperatures are much lower.


Greenland sharks live further north than any other species of shark. In fact, they are the only known species of shark to inhabit these waters. In Canadian waters, they can be found around Baffin Island, the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the Scotian Shelf and at the mouth of rivers near Saguenay River in Quèbec.

A Species at Risk?

Very little is known about this species of shark; however, it continues to be caught as bycatch in a number of fisheries. High bycatch and discard rate from bottom trawl fisheries (e.g. halibut and other deep-water species) is very common.

Did You Know?

The Greenland shark is poisonous, due to the high urea content that is stored in its flesh. It is this fact which gave rise to the Inuit legend of Skalugsuak, the first Greenland shark. It is said that while an old women was drying her hair after washing it with urine, a gust of wind carried the cloth to sea, where it turned into Skalugsuak.