In April, shrimp fisherman Carl Moore accidentally caught an incredibly rare goblin shark off the Florida Keys. Moore snapped photos of the 18-foot-long creature before releasing it back into the water.
Those images, shared by NOAA, immediately captured the attention of the media and scientists as they showed only the second goblin shark ever to be spotted in the Gulf of Mexico, and the first to be captured since 2000.
But researchers studying the photos noticed something else that’s exciting. Among the shrimp and other fish dumped on the boat deck are dozens of giant deep-sea isopods — huge insect-like creatures closely related to shrimps and crabs.
“Imagine a pill bug the size of a house cat,” Thaler said.
The giant isopod can grow up to lengths of more than 16 inches. They survive by scavenging for food on the ocean floor, including the decomposing bodies of dead whales, fish, and squid, according to the website Sea and Sky.
That’s probably why the cluster of giant isopods and the goblin shark were scooped up together — a very bizarre occurrence.
Thaler believes that both the isopods and the shark were feeding on the carcass of a whale decaying at the bottom of the ocean.
Giant isopods are “usually spread pretty thin and only occur in abundance around a food source,” Thaler told The Houston Chronicle. The fishing trawl, he theorizes, passed over the spot of the dead whale.