When we think of a great white shark, the “great” tends to stand out. We picture a colossal fish. A doctoral student and wildlife filmmaker may have spotted among the tiniest ones, though: The first ever newborn great white seen in the wild.
University of California Riverside biology doctoral student Phillip Sternes has been studying sharks for some time, including conducting research on megalodons. Wildlife filmmaker Carlos Gauna, meanwhile, is known as The Malibu Artist and has a popular YouTube channel packed with shark footage.
The pair was off the coast of Santa Barbara, California in July when they spotted a tiny shark with Gauna’s drone camera. This came a few weeks after Gauna had seen what appeared to be pregnant great white sharks in the area.
According to a paper the duo co-authored in the journal Environmental Biology of Fishes, the roughly five-foot-long pup was completely white, rather than gray on top and white on the bottom, like great whites usually are. However, evidence pointed to the pup being this species.
Gauna says, “I filmed three very large sharks that appeared pregnant at this specific location in the days prior. On this day, one of them dove down, and not long afterwards, this fully white shark appears. It’s not a stretch to deduce where the baby came from.”
The pair believed this little shark was shedding intrauterine milk that embryos feed on. The other possibility was an unknown skin condition, though they believe that’s unlikely because it would have been a condition never observed before in the species.
The sighting could answer questions about great white breeding grounds, which are not well understood. Gauna says this is due in part to the fact that, before this, there hadn’t been a newborn great white spotted alive, only in mothers that had died while pregnant. The area where the pup was seen was thought to be such a breeding ground, though, and the duo hopes their findings may keep the area safe.
Sternes says, “Further research is needed to confirm these waters are indeed a great white breeding ground. But if it does, we would want lawmakers to step in and protect these waters to help white sharks keep thriving.”
To see the footage of the likely newborn great white, watch the video from Gauna’s YouTube channel below!