The great white shark is one of the ocean’s mightiest and most feared predators. Even if you’ve never seen one up close, you probably know them well from movies like Jaws and specials like Shark Week.
But have you ever seen a baby great white? It’s hard to imagine these kings of the deep as little ones, and spotting a newborn is virtually impossible.
But recently, a photographer snapped what researchers believe is the first infant great white caught on camera.
The baby shark (cue the song!) was photographed by Carlos Gauna, aka The Malibu Artist, who has sought to capture “the secret life of sharks” in his work.
“I want to kind of tell the story of what sharks do when we aren’t watching, we aren’t interacting with them, when we’re not touching them,” Guana told CBS News. “And through that experience, I’ve seen some sharks doing some really wild things, things that have no explanation. … You never know what you’re going to see.”
What he saw on July 9, it turns out, was something that has always eluded shark experts: a newborn great white.
After noticing a gathering of adult sharks in the Santa Barbara area, Gauna and his partner, UC Riverside biology doctoral student Phillip Sternes, used a drone to follow a shark 1,000 feet from the shore, and photographed a “little bitty thing,” a five-foot white shark that he thought might’ve been an albino.
Scientists originally speculated the white coloring was due to a skin infection, but the photographers began to suspect it was a newborn shedding its intrauterine milk.
“We enlarged the images, put them in slow motion, and realized the white layer was being shed from the body as it was swimming,” Sternes said in a University of California – Riverside press release. “I believe it was a newborn white shark shedding its embryonic layer.”
The duo published their findings in a peer-reviewed Environmental Biology of Fishes report. While not discounting the possibility that the shark has an “unknown skin disorder,” they have evidence to suggest that this is the first-ever photograph of a newborn great white.
It’s a major breakthrough because, despite the great white’s iconic status, their birthing habits are still a mystery to researchers.
“Where white sharks give birth is one of the holy grails of shark science. No one has ever been able to pinpoint where they are born, nor has anyone seen a newborn baby shark alive,” Gauna said. “There have been dead white sharks found inside deceased pregnant mothers. But nothing like this.”
The sighting provides evidence of a birthing site off the coast of California, and suggest that great whites give birth closer to the shore, in shallower waters, than many scholars believe.
“There are a lot of hypothetical areas, but despite intense interest in these sharks, no one’s seen a birth or a newborn pup in the wild,” Sternes said. “This may well be the first evidence we have of a pup in the wild, making this a definitive birthing location.”
Wow, what an incredible, rare look at a newborn great white, and a potentially huge breakthrough in shark research. Please share this fascinating story if you love animals! ❤️🦈