Megamouth Shark, Megachasma pelagios Taylor, Compagno & Struhsaker 1983

A Megamouth Shark, Megachasma pelagios. Source: NOAA Photo Library. License: Public Domain

This pelagic filter-feeder is one of the rarest sharks in the world. The Megamouth Shark has an almost 'tadpole-shaped' body with a huge fleshy head that tapers to a long asymmetrical tail, and a very short, wide head with an enormous terminal mouth armed with many rows of small hooked teeth.

Underwater footage of the 6th Megamouth Shark ever discovered. Captured near Los Angeles and tethered overnight, this shark was released after being tagged with two acoustic transmitters. The Megamouth migrated to feed in deeper waters during the day, before returning to near surface waters at night - perhaps following the daily migration of mesopelagic zooplankton, especially euphausid crustaceans.

Video of Megamouth and other sharks

Underwater footage of a Megamouth Shark

Cite this page as:
Dianne J. Bray, Megachasma pelagios in Fishes of Australia, accessed 22 Jan 2020,

Megamouth Shark, Megachasma pelagios Taylor, Compagno & Struhsaker 1983

More Info


Worldwide, in tropical and temperate pelagic habitats from approximately the surface down to 1,500 m. The species is known from only 102 specimens (as of August 2015). This oceanic pelagic species undertakes daily vertical migrations, spending daylight hours in deeper epi-pelagic waters, and returning to near-surface waters at night. The Megamouth may be following the daily vertical migration of the mesopelagic prey on which it feeds - krill, other crustaceans, jellyfishes and possibly small fishes.

Itabashi et al. (1997) suggested that the composition of the liver oil of the Megamouth Shark, along with its body coloration and catch records, indicates that the species most likely inhabits epipelagic depths (0-200 metres) rather that deeper waters.


Vertebrae: 125.
Almost tadpole-like in shape, with a huge head, and tapering body and tail; Eyes semicircular with no nictitating membrane; snout very short, broadly-rounded; mouth huge, broad, terminal with thick rubbery lips; jaws protrusible with small, hooked teeth in many rows. Gill openings moderately long, not extending onto top of head, internal gill slits with many rows of papillose finger-like gill rakers.
Two relatively low angular dorsal fins, pectoral fins long, narrow; anal fin small, pelvic fins of moderate size. Caudal fin long, asymmetrical, lower lobe well-developed; upper pre-caudal pit present; keels and ridges absent from tail base.
The pectoral fin of the Megamouth Shark appears to be remarkably flexible and mobile, unlike that of many fast swimming sharks which have stiff and relatively immobile pectoral fins. The flexibility and mobility of the pectoral fin is thought to provide stability at slow swimming speeds (Tomita et al. 2014).


Maximum length: Female 7 m; male 5.5 m.


Dark greyish to bluish-black or blackish-brown above, paler below, with white fin tips and a silvery lining to the inside of the mouth. Snout just above upper jaw with a bright white band, seen only when the upper jaw is protruded.


Along with the Whale Shark (Rhincodon typus) and the Basking Shark (Cetorhinus maximus), the poorly known Megamouth Shark is one of three living filter-feeding sharks. The Megamouth is a planktivore, feeding on a variety of zooplankton, including euphausid shrimps, copepods and pelagic jellyfish.

Kempster & Collin (2011) examined the Megamouth Shark at the Western Australian Museum when it was moved to a new display case. They found that most of the electrosensory organs (Ampullae of Lorenzini) were located on top of the head, presumably because of the short snout and terminal mouth of the Megamouth Shark is terminal, rather than the mouth being positioned on the underside of the snout like most other sharks.

The Megamouth Shark lives in the oceanic midwaters, and Kempster & Collin suggest that the electrosensory organs on the shark’s head can even detect the weak electrical fields produced by its tiny planktonic prey. The authors also suggest that the spacing and orientation of the electrosensory pores on the head enables M. pelagios to use passive electroreception to maximise feeding efficiency.


Although little is known of the biology of this species, like other mackeral sharks, the Megamouth is assumed to be ovoviviparous (aplacental viviparous). The largest embryos probably engage in embryonic oophagy, feeding on additional eggs produced by mother.

Males showing recent evidence of copulation have been collected, and at least one female had what appeared to be mating scars.

More information on the life history and anatomy is available in Yano et al. (1997), Last & Stevens (1994, 2009), Compagno (2001) and Kempster & Collin (2011).


Taken as a very rare incidental bycatch of various high-seas and coastal fisheries, including commercial littoral drift gillnets, set fish traps, and pelagic longlines and purse-seines, vulnerable to pelagic gillnets and pelagic trawls (Compagno 2005).

The Megamouth is preyed upon by Sperm Whales and Cookie Cutter Sharks (Isistius brasiliensis).


IUCN Red List: Data Deficient.


With its flabby body, and weakly calcified  skeleton and soft thought to be a very slow swimmer.

Similar Species


Megachasma is from the Greek megas, megalos (great), and chasma (cave or chasm), in reference to the huge mouth. The species name pelagios is Greek (of the sea). The scientific name therefore means 'great chasm of the open sea'.

Species Citation

Megachasma pelagios Taylor, 1983, Proc. Calif. Acad. Sci. 4 43(8): 96, figs 2-5.  Type locality: about 42 km north-east of Kahuku Point, Oahu Island, Hawaii [21°51´N, 157°46´W].


Dianne J. Bray


Megamouth Shark, Megachasma pelagios Taylor, Compagno & Struhsaker 1983


Amorim, A.F., C.A. Arfelli & J.I. Castro. 2000. Description of a juvenile Megamouth Shark, Megachasma pelagios, caught off Brazil. Environmental Biology of Fishes 59: 117-123.

Berra, T.M. 1997. Some 20th century fish discoveries. Environmental Biology of Fishes 50: 1–12.

Berra, T.M. & J.B. Hutchins. 1990. A specimen of Megamouth Shark, Megachasma pelagios (Megachasmidae) from Western Australia. Rec. W. A. Mus. 14(4): 651-656.

Berra, T.M. & B. Hutchins. 1991. Natural history notes on the Megamouth Shark, Megachasma pelagios, from Western Australia. W. A. Naturalist  18(8): 224-233.

Castro, J.I., E. Clark, K. Yano & K. Nakaya, 1997. The gross anatomy of the female reproductive tract and associated organs of the Fukouka megamouth shark (Megachasma pelagios). p. 115-119. In Yano, K., J.F. Morissey, Y. Tabumoto, & K. Nakaya. (eds) Biology of the megamouth shark. Tokai University Press, Tokyo, Japan. 201pp.

Clark, E. & J. Castro. 1995. ‘Megamamma’ is a virgin: dissection of the first female specimen of Megachasma pelagios. Environmental Biology of Fishes 43: 329-332.

Compagno, L.J.V. 1990. Relationships of the Megamouth Shark, Megachasma pelagios (Lamniformes: Megachasmidae), with comments on its feeding habits. NOAA Tech. Rep. NMFS 90: 357-379.

Compagno, L.J.V. 2001. Sharks of the World. An annotated and illustrated catalogue of the shark species known to date. Volume 2. Bullhead, mackerel and carpet sharks (Heterodontiformes, Lamniformes and Orectolobiformes). FAO, Rome.

Diamond, J.M. 1985. Filter-feeding on a grand scale. Nature 316: 679-680.

Dulvy, N.K., J.K. Baum, S. Clarke, L.J.V. Compagno, E. Cortés, A. Domingo, S. Fordham, S. Fowler, M.P. Francis, C. Gibson, J. Martínez, J.A. Musick, A. Soldo, J.D. Stevens & S. Valenti, 2008. You can swim but you can't hide: the global status and conservation of oceanic pelagic sharks and rays. Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems.

Dulvy, N.K. & J.D. Reynolds. 1997. Evolutionary transitions among egg-laying, live-bearing and maternal inputs in sharks and rays. Proc. R. Soc. Lond., Ser. B: Biol. Sci. 264: 1309-1315.

Fernando, D., Perera, N. and Ebert, D.A. 2015. First record of the megamouth shark, Megachasma pelagios, (Chondrichthyes: Lamniformes: Megachasmidae) from Sri Lanka, northern Indian Ocean. Marine Biodiversity Records 8.

Fowler, S.L., Cavanagh, R.D., Camhi, M., Burgess, G.H., Cailliet, G.M., Fordham, S.V., Simpfendorfer, C.A. and Musick, J.A. (comps and eds). 2005. Sharks, Rays and Chimaeras: The Status of the Chondrichthyan Fishes. Status Survey. pp. x + 461. IUCN/SSC Shark Specialist Group, IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK.

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Hutchins, B. 1992. Megamouth: Gentle Giant of the Deep. Australian Natural History 23(12): 910-917.

Itabashi, Y., Yamaguchi, A. & Nakaya, K. 1997. Liver oil composition of the Megamouth Shark, Megachasma pelagios. pp. 151-159. In: Yano, K., Morissey, J.F., Yabumoto, Y. and Nakaya, K. Biology of the Megamouth Shark. Tokai University Press, Tokyo, Japan.

Ito, H., M. Yoshimoto & H. Somiya. 1999. External brain form and cranial nerves of the Megamouth Shark, Megachasma pelagios. Copeia 1999(1): 210-213.

Kempster, R.M. & Collin, S.P. (2011). Electrosensory pore distribution and feeding in the megamouth shark, Megachasma pelagios (Lamniformes: Megachasmidae). Aquatic Biology 11: 225-228.

Last, P.R. & J.D. Stevens. 1994. Sharks and Rays of Australia. Canberra : CSIRO Australia CSIRO. 513 pp. 84 pls.

Last, P.R. & Stevens, J.D. 2009. Sharks and Rays of Australia. Collingwood : CSIRO Publishing Australia Edn 2, 550 pp.

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Lavenberg, R.J. & J.A. Seigel. 1985. The Pacific’s megamystery — Megamouth. Terra 23(4): 29-31.

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Nakaya, K., Matsumoto, R. & Suda, K. 2008. Feeding strategy of the megamouth shark, Megachasma pelagios (Lamniformes: Megachasmidae). J Fish Biol 73: 17–34. doi: 10.1111/j.1095-8649.2008.01880.x

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Taylor, L.R., Compagno, L.J.V. & P.J. Struhsaker. 1983. Megamouth - A new species, genus, and family of lamnoid shark (Megachasma pelagios, family Megachasmidae) from the Hawaiian Islands. Proc. Cal. Acad. Sci. 43(8): 87-110.

Tomita, T., Sato, K., Suda, K., Kawauchi, J. & Nakaya, K. 2011. Feeding of the megamouth shark (Pisces: Lamniformes: Megachasimidae) predicted by its hyoid arch: A biomechanical approach. J Morphol 272: 513–524. doi: 10.1002/jmor.10905

Tomita, T., Tanaka, S., Sato, K. & Nakaya K. 2014. Pectoral Fin of the Megamouth Shark: Skeletal and Muscular Systems, Skin Histology, and Functional Morphology. PLoS ONE 9(1): e86205. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0086205 PDF Open access

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Yano, K., Morissey, J.F., Yabumoto, Y. and Nakaya, K. 1997. Biology of the Megamouth Shark. Tokai University Press, Tokyo, Japan.

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Quick Facts

CAAB Code:37009001

Conservation:IUCN Least Concern

Depth:5-1500 m

Feeding:Filter feeder

Habitat:Epipelagic, mesopelagic, oceanic

Max Size:577 cm TL

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Species Maps

CAAB distribution map