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Eating Greenland Shark

We made a stop at the Shark Museum, This turned out to be a set of tin sided buildings at the end of a rural road. We went in through a door in the breezeway with the lowest roof line. I suspect future groups will be going in from the right. The landscaping wasn’t much to speak of, but when you got close they had clearly made an effort. I thought the bones were interesting. Unluckily, I didn’t write down whether or not they are whale bones.

Inside, to the right, they had an intact ship as the largest and most impressive display. The walls were covered in old equipment and fishing related items. A few glass cases held more.

To the left they had a screen on which they ran a video about what it’s like to fish and process the shark, and a table where they set out some samples, as in the first picture.

The shark in question is a Sleeper Shark sometimes called Greenland Shark. It can live up to 400 years, and grow to be 7 meters long, and two thousand pounds. Yeah, not small. Up until the 1950’s it was one of Iceland’s major exports. It fell out of fashion when people no longer used the liver oil to run lanterns.

The skin is extremely rough, as you can see to the right. It kind of reminded me of the hook side of Velcro. People in Iceland used it as sandpaper.

When you first pull it out of the sea, it’s toxic. This is because it had tiny kidneys, and uses an abundance of urine in the tissues as an antifreeze. Good for them. Not so much for hungry humans.

So of course they made it a delicacy served year round but traditionally eaten mid-winter. Think lutfisk or fruitcake.

In order to eat it, you must first press all the juices out. This goes on for six weeks. They used wooden boxes, but it can also be done it drained plastic tubs or simply by burying the shark intact in a sand pit. During this time it ferments. Then it is hung in a shed for up to four months. When ready, they cut it into little cubes and serve it up.

You don’t eat much at a time – just a little cube, preferably thoroughly pickled in a local liquor called brennivín. This alcohol is sometimes referred to as Black Death. You chew the tiny shark cube until it reaches it’s peak in flavor – ” or until you reach your peak.” then you swallow it down along with a big swig of Black Death. My peak was six chews. Then it tasted the way ammonia smells.

Yes I ate it.

Afterward we wandered around the farm. There’s a volcano behind the horses. Facing the the other way, beyond the sheep, was the ocean. Between were rusted out equipment, chickens, and the shark shed.  On our own we wandered up and looked around.

The sign for the turn is shaped like a shark. We were moving pretty fast when I noticed it and tried to get a shot. Please forgive the fuzziness of the picture. I thought it looked cool.


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