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Is This a Goblin Shark Spotted in Greece or a Harmless Toy?

Goblin Shark Greece
At the top, is the suspicious specimen photo. Below, is a picture of an actual, verified goblin shark. Credits: Giannis Papadakis / Nicolas Straube / Mediterranean Marine Science / Gizmodo

Scientists who published a photo of what would be the first-ever goblin shark found in Greece and the whole of the Mediterranean Sea have retracted their report. The retraction, submitted on March 20, follows Gizmodo’s earlier reporting on the saga.

The scientists published a short description of what they claimed was the first goblin shark in the Mediterranean, based on a single, low-quality photo provided to them by a Greek citizen scientist in May 2022.

The photo was shot on the Greek Aegean island of Anafi. It then appeared in the journal Mediterranean Marine Science.

None of the researchers saw or interacted with that alleged specimen directly. The photo purporting to show the formerly living shark showed no scale, and the scientists were unable to make a firm estimate of its size.

Goblin sharks, elusive and distinctive looking deep-sea fish, have been documented in many places around the world but never before in the Mediterranean Sea.

If the 2022 record were genuine, it would represent an important range extension that could dictate future research funding or even marine conservation spending.

Yet many doubt its validity.

Goblin shark in Greece “doesn’t look natural”

“It didn’t look right,” David Ebert, author of the book ‘Sharks of the World’, told the New York Times. “It’s too small, and its gills don’t look like they’re actually open,” he said, adding that “It doesn’t look natural at all.”

Ebert and others were cautious because there had been no direct examination of the shark by someone with a formal science background.

Experts have said the specimen’s lack of teeth, overly rounded fins, and the low number of gill slits didn’t fit the characteristics of a goblin shark.

A photo of a plastic goblin shark toy sold by an Italian toy company, DeAgostini, was found online.

Experts argue it looks suspiciously similar to the goblin shark found in Greece.

The toy “shows a great similarity to the specimen in the published image,” Jürgen Pollerspöck, an independent shark researcher and a co-author of the report doubting the Greek goblin shark’s authenticity, told the New York Times.

“It looks an awful lot like a toy shark,” deep-sea ecologist Andrew Thaler agreed.

“I think it’s very possible that it could be [a] degraded plastic toy,” Joana Sipe, a scientist studying plastic degradation at Duke University, told Gizmodo.

The study authors have officially retracted the photo and their study.

“The above authors remove these recent publications due to remaining uncertainty because they are based on a visual observation by a citizen (citizen scientist), without a specimen being available. The available information was not adequate to support this record based solely on photographic evidence and direct contact between the authors and the citizen,” the notice by the authors reads.

Related: Blue Sharks Swim Alongside Fishing Boats in Greece

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