Rare Footage Reveals Baby Great White Shark, Unveiling Mysteries of Birthing Habits

The biggest predatory sharks globally, great whites, known for the most fatal attacks on humans, are challenging to envision as newborns. That’s partly because, until now, no one seems to have seen them in the wild.

On July 9, 2023, near Santa Barbara on California’s central coast, wildlife filmmaker Carlos Gauna and UC Riverside biology doctoral student Phillip Sternes were scanning for sharks. Gauna’s drone camera viewfinder revealed something thrilling that day—a shark pup unlike any they had seen.

Great whites, often called white sharks by scientists, are typically gray on top and white underneath. However, this approximately 5-foot-long shark was entirely white.

Sternes mentioned, “We enlarged the images, put them in slow motion, and realized the white layer was being shed from the body as it was swimming. I believe it was a newborn white shark shedding its embryonic layer.”

These observations are detailed in a recent paper in the Environmental Biology of Fishes journal, emphasizing the significance of witnessing a live newborn white shark.

Known online as The Malibu Artist, Gauna has spent thousands of hours filming sharks globally, with videos of them swimming close to beachgoers garnering millions of views. What he and Sternes observed could potentially solve the long-standing mystery of great white birthing habits.

Gauna stated, “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. There have been dead white sharks found inside deceased pregnant mothers. But nothing like this.”

Although the paper authors acknowledge the possibility that the white film the shark shed could be a skin condition, the duo does not believe this to be the case. Gauna said, “If that is what we saw, then that too is monumental because no such condition has ever been reported for these sharks.”

For many reasons, the duo believes what they saw was indeed a newborn great white.

Firstly, great white females give birth to live pups. While in utero, embryonic sharks might feed on unfertilized eggs for protein. The mothers provide additional nourishment to the growing shark pups with a ‘milk’ secreted in the uterus.

Sternes expressed, “I believe what we saw was the baby shedding the intrauterine milk.”

A second reason is the presence of large, likely pregnant great whites in this location. Gauna had observed them here in previous years and in the weeks leading up to the observation. Gauna said, “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 afterward, this fully white shark appears. It’s not a stretch to deduce where the baby came from.”

Thirdly, the shark’s size and shape also indicate a newborn. What the two observed was thin, short, and rounded. Sternes said, “In my opinion, this one was likely hours, maybe one day old at most.”

Finally, this location off the coast of central California has long been proposed as a birthing location for great whites. Sternes said, “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. This may well be the first evidence we have of a pup in the wild, making this a definitive birthing location.”

Many scholars believe great whites are born farther out at sea. That this pup was filmed so close to the shore—roughly 1,000 feet from the beach—is significant because its age suggests it was likely born in shallow waters.

Great whites are internationally listed as an endangered species. Sternes said, “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.”

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