Footage Points to the 'Holy Grail of Shark Science'

Scientists describe what is believed to be the first sighting of a newborn great white
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 30, 2024 8:50 AM CST

Scientists have spotted juvenile great white sharks, but never before had they caught a glimpse of a newborn. That reportedly changed this past July when a drone captured a 5-foot-long pup, apparently still covered with its embryonic layer. There's some doubt given the novelty of the situation, but the shark appeared to be covered in a whitish film that shed in pieces as the shark swam, Gizmodo reports. It also had an underdeveloped dorsal fin matching the appearance of dorsal fins of unborn pups found inside deceased pregnant sharks. Given these two factors, the prevailing theory is that this is the first newborn great white shark ever seen—a discovery that moves researchers closer to solving one of the biggest mysteries about the largest predatory fish in the world, now an endangered species.

Though great white sharks are arguably the most well-known shark in the world, we know surprisingly little about them. It's unknown, for instance, where they give birth. "Capturing the actual birth is the holy grail of shark science," Carlos Guana, a wildlife filmmaker who captured the footage and co-wrote a study on the find published Monday in Environmental Biology of Fishes, tells Gizmodo. "What I filmed is simply a clue that gets us closer to it." The shark was spotted just 1,300 feet off the coast of Carpinteria in southern California, as CNN reports. Study co-author Phillip Sternes, a biology doctoral student at the University of California Riverside, speculates that the shark might've been "hours, maybe one day old at most," suggesting it was born in shallow waters nearby, per CNN.

Though great whites are thought to travel roughly 50 miles in a day, "we cannot rule out that the shark, which is quite mobile, could have moved a great distance from the birthing area," Greg Skomal, senior fisheries scientist at the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, tells CNN. The area was previously proposed as a potential birthing ground, but critics have argued the sharks must be born further out to sea. Some now question the absence of other newborns in the footage, as great whites typically have between two and 10 pups in a litter. But mature sharks were spotted in the same area on the same day. The discovery, if confirmed, has "the potential to change the direction of where we should be looking" for birthing grounds and may have "bigger implications for what areas should be protected," Guana tells Gizmodo. (More great white shark stories.)

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