The great white shark (Carcharodon carcharias), which has reigned as the oceans’ top predator for more than 400 million years, is a colossal being that survived the extinction of the dinosaurs. It can weigh more than 2 tons and reach up to 7 meters in length, as reported by the Conexão Planeta website.
This expert swimmer has an impressive 3,000 teeth, however, surprisingly, it does not chew its prey; he swallows them. Furthermore, its remarkable ability to smell a single drop of blood, even mixed in more than 100 liters of water, stands out. The great white shark is unique in sharing with whales the ability to leap completely out of the water.
The shark seen from above, in the image recorded by the drone off the coast of California/(Photo: Carlos Gauna/The Malibu Artist)
Photo: Carlos Gauna/The Malibu Artist
Despite our comprehensive knowledge about this marine predator, one part of its life remained a great mystery: its birth. However, an incredible record taken by photographer Carlos Gauna and biologist Phillip Sternes may represent the first step towards unraveling this enigma.
Until then, there was no documentation of a newborn great white shark. However, in July 2023, as the two explored the waters off the coast of Santa Barbara, California, looking for sharks, something unexpected was captured by Gauna’s drone lens.
Despite being commonly called a great white shark, the species has a gray color on the upper part and white only on the lower part. However, the drone recorded a completely white animal, measuring around 1.5 meters, displaying all the characteristics of a Carcharodon carcharias baby.
“We enlarged the images, put them in slow motion and realized that the white layer was being eliminated from the body as it swam,” says Sternes. “I believe it was a newborn great white shark that shed its embryonic layer.”
When still in the mother’s womb, great white shark embryos can feed on unfertilized eggs to obtain protein. Additionally, the female offers additional nutrition with a type of milk. And it would be this liquid that covered the newborn’s body.
The incredible record has just been published in a scientific article in the publication Environmental Biology of Fishes.
“The place where great white sharks give birth is one of the ‘holy grails’ of shark science. No one has ever been able to identify where they were born, nor has anyone seen a newborn baby shark alive,” says Gauna. “There are dead great white sharks found inside deceased pregnant mothers. But nothing like this.”
There is a possibility, however, that the record was of an albino shark or one with leucism. However, the research duo does not believe this. They report that in the region where they were caught there was a group of pregnant females and for years it has been believed that this area is a nursery for the species.
“I filmed three very large sharks that looked pregnant in this particular location in the previous days. On that day, one of them dived and, shortly after, this completely white shark appeared”, reports Gauna. “It’s not a stretch to deduce where the cub came from.”
Over the past 20 years, the great white shark population has declined by 90%. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the species is classified as “vulnerable” on the Red List, which means that there is a possibility of becoming extinct in the wild.
“More research is needed to confirm that these waters are indeed a great breeding ground for great white sharks. But if that happens, we would like policymakers to step in and protect the region to help the species continue to thrive,” highlights Sternes.
With information from Planet Connection