Baby great white shark ‘unlike anything we had ever seen before’
Infant looks to be wrapped in mother’s milk, suggesting it may be hours old.
Where ferocious great white sharks give birth is unknown. However, a drone hovering off the California coast obtained footage last year that may explain that enigma and prove that baby great whites are born with a gossamer layer of mother’s milk.
The film of a 1.5-meter-long infant covered in milk, published today in Environmental Biology of Fishes, “was unlike anything we had ever seen before,” says study co-author Phillip Sternes, an organismal biologist at UC Riverside. “It was thrilling.
“Observations of free-swimming newborn white sharks are extremely rare,” says NOAA shark biologist Tobey Curtis, who was not involved in the study. Captive great whites struggle. He believes it’s “nearly impossible to be in the exact right place at the exact right time to observe and document the moment of birth” even when scientists attach monitoring devices to mature females.
However, wildlife videographer Carlos Gauna came close in July 2023. Guana noticed a little, chalky great white after a long day filming sharks off Carpinteria, California, using a drone. Great whites have grey backs. One closer inspection showed little portions of the baby’s natural grey skin peeking through a slimy white stuff falling off the animal.
The shark’s tiny size and rounded fins suggest it was a baby, maybe hours old, say biologists who saw the clip. Sternes speculates that a skin ailment caused the colour.
However, the latest research suggests that the ghostly covering was uterine milk, which pregnant great white sharks generate to nurse their pups.
The unusual video suggests some great whites give birth off California. The species is global and may have many breeding places. Shark experts consider knowing where any of these pups are born the “holy grail of questions,” according to James Anderson, a Hawaii Hammerhead study Project shark scientist who was not involved in the study. Curtis believes the solution might greatly impact attempts to save the IUCN-listed species.