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08th Apr 2022

Super-rare, century-old shark stranded on British beach died of meningitis, report finds

Charlie Herbert

Rare Greenland shark died of meningitis

Very little is know about the mysterious Greenland shark species

A super-rare Greenland shark stranded on a British beach died of meningitis – the first time the infection has been found in the elusive species, a report found on Friday (April 8).

The female shark measuring 3.96m long was discovered stuck near Cornwall’s Newlyn Harbour on March 13.

Greenland sharks are the world’s oldest living creature, living from between 250 to 500 years.

The shark, thought to be a juvenile at 100 years old, was returned to the sea but was later found dead leading to a post mortem by the Cornwall Marine Pathology Team.

The Pathologists at ZSL’s Cetacean Stranding Investigate Programme determined the animal had died from a meningitis-like brain infection, the first time one of the species has been found to have died from the brain disease.

The shark measured almost 4 metres long (SWNS)

This also explains why the creature was so far out of its natural habitat, normally being found in deep Arctic waters.

James Barnett, pathologist from the Cornwall Marine Pathology Team said: “During the post-mortem examination, the brain did look slightly discoloured and congested and the fluid around the brain was cloudy, raising the possibility of infection.

“This was then confirmed on microscopic examination of the brain.

“A species of Pasteurella, a bacteria, was isolated from the fluid and this may well have been the cause of the meningitis.

A post-mortem investigation was carried out on the shark, with very little known about the Greenland shark species (SWNS)

He explained that the “poor condition” of the shark’s body suggested that the creature had “live stranded.”

“As far as we’re aware, this is one of the first post-mortem examinations here in the UK of a Greenland shark and the first account of meningitis in this species.”

Greenland sharks are extremely rare creatures that little is known about.

Rob Deaville, ZSL’s Cetacean Stranding Investigation Programme (CSIP) project lead said that the “unfortunate and extraordinary stranding has allowed us to get an insight into the life” of the species and that the meningitis discovery is “likely a world first.”

He added: “Ultimately, like most marine life, deep sea species such as Greenland sharks may also be impacted by human pressures on the ocean but there is not enough evidence at this stage to make any connections.

“Huge thanks are owed to the volunteers of Cornwall Wildlife Trust Marine Strandings Network and all those who spotted and brought the body to shore.

A research paper looking more deeply at the team’s post-mortem investigation of the Greenland shark will be published in due course.

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