‘Unusual’ white shark perhaps the world’s first live newborn

Front view of the newborn white shark (Carlos Gauna / The Malibu Artist)

‘Unusual’ white shark perhaps the world’s first live newborn

Marine researchers are hoping that new footage showing what is likely the first-ever glimpse of a live baby great white shark may shed light on a long-standing conundrum in marine biology.

During a July drone flight over the Pacific in Santa Barbara, California, wildlife filmmaker Carlos “The Malibu Artist” Gauna saw a “peculiar” shark—surprising because it seemed all white at first.

One of the holy grails of shark study is the location where white sharks give birth, according to the filmmaker. Nobody has ever seen a live newborn shark, and no one has ever been able to determine where they are born.

“While southern California is home to many white shark nurseries, this wasn’t technically in one. It was at a specific location where I’ve made some anecdotal observations over the years that were quickly becoming a trend.”

Although experts have long held the belief that white sharks give birth far from shore, the video of the newborn shark was shot within around 300 meters of the shore.

Not like anything I’ve ever seen.

The shark filmmaker has been keeping an eye on a group of enormous white sharks that were only sometimes seen for the last three years. He’d figured out from hundreds of hours of shark observation that at least some of them were carrying babies.

“On this particular day, one such large shark was visible,” he says. “It disappeared just beyond the visual depths following some erratic yet unexpected movements. Shortly thereafter this small, completely white-covered white shark appeared. It was unlike anything I’ve seen before.”

White shark mothers give birth to live pups, which are believed to get their protein from unfertilized eggs while still in the womb, along with a milky material released by the mother. Gauna managed to capture the juvenile shark on camera for eighteen minutes, estimating its length to be about 1.5 meters.

The pup remained visible for 18 minutes (Carlos Gauna / The Malibu Artist)
The pup remained visible for 18 minutes (Carlos Gauna / The Malibu Artist)

It’s unmistakable that this is a very young white shark. The problem is, nobody has ever seen one so young before, and this could very well be the youngest ever recorded alive.” 

Now, he and PhD student Phillip Sternes of the University of California, Riverside, have submitted a peer-reviewed scientific article on the encounter for the journal Environmental Biology of Fishes.

Sternes surmised that the puppy was probably no older than a few hours or a day at most. The observers claim that while being unable to pinpoint the shark’s precise age, several important findings pointed to its being a young one.

The primary indicator was the dorsal fin’s rounded form, which was “nearly identical” to dead fish seen inside pregnant women in the past. When confined within the uterus, the fins stay stumpy.

Layer of embryos

The white coating was being shed from the shark’s body as it swam when the video was magnified and seen in slow motion. The reason the team believes it was losing its embryonic layer—a white uterine “milk”—is because the shark darkens during the eighteen-minute video.

Over the course of the filming the shark appeared to grow darker (Carlos Gauna / The Malibu Artist)
Over the course of the filming the shark appeared to grow darker (Carlos Gauna / The Malibu Artist)

In their paper, the authors also speculate that the shark may have had a skin condition, even though no great white shark has ever been known to have such a condition.

“Further research is needed to confirm these waters are indeed a great white breeding ground,” says Sternes, “but, if it does, we would want lawmakers to step in and protect these waters to help white sharks keep thriving.”

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