A super-rare Greenland shark that was stranded on a British beach last month died of meningitis, it has been announced.
The female shark measuring 13ft (3.96m) long was found stuck near Newlyn Harbour in Cornwall on March 13.
It was originally returned to the sea successfully but was later discovered dead.
The pathologists at Zoological Society London’s (ZSL’s) Cetacean Stranding Investigate Programme who conducted the post-mortem determined that the animal had died from some kind of meningitis-like brain infection.
This marks the first time one of the otherwise “invincible” Greenland sharks has been found to have died from the brain disease.
Often living from between 250 to 500 years, Greenland sharks today could have been born during the reign of Henry VIII and are considered extremely rare and mysterious creatures rarely observed by humans.
This particular shark was still only a juvenile, despite being nearly 100 years old.
The disease also explains why the creature was so far out of its natural habitat, normally being found in deep Arctic waters up to 8,684ft (2,647m) below the surface.
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.
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"This was then confirmed on microscopic examination of the brain (histopathology).
"A species of Pasteurella, a bacteria, was isolated from the fluid and this may well have been the cause of the meningitis.
“The shark’s body was in poor condition and there were signs of haemorrhage within the soft tissue around the pectoral fins which, coupled with the silt found in her stomach, suggested she may well have 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.”
Rob Deaville, ZSL’s Cetacean Stranding Investigation Programme (CSIP) project lead, said: “This unfortunate and extraordinary stranding has allowed us to get an insight into the life and death of a species we know little about.
"Discovering that this shark had meningitis is likely a world’s first, but the significance of this in terms of any wider stressors is unknown.
"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.
"This was an exceptional collaborative effort by all involved and was a unique opportunity to learn more about the life of this cryptic and endangered deep-water shark.”
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