A possible baby great white shark sighting thrills researchers
You’ve probably never seen a baby great white shark on a list of cutest baby animals. But not due to any lack in their looks — we just don’t have photos of them.
On Monday, a wildlife photographer and a shark researcher published a paper that outlines their observations of what may possibly be a newborn great white shark, captured on a drone camera in July 2023.
Photographer Carlos Gauna, who posts videos on YouTube under the name TheMalibuArtist, told the BBC about his first moments with the find off the coast of Southern California.
“This little bitty white, almost albino-looking, white shark came up to the surface,” Gauna said.
Here’s the clip:
“I’m like, ‘oh my goodness, this could be a newborn,’” said University of California shark researcher Phil Sternes, Gauna’s companion that day. “We’re both falling out of our seats with excitement at that point. It was quite a moment.”
Let’s be honest: It is kind of cute!
Despite the visibility of great whites in pop culture, their reproductive process is mysterious.
Christopher Lowe, professor of marine biology and director of the Shark Lab at California State University at Long Beach, told The Washington Post that with regard to pregnant great white sharks, “everything we know comes from like eight females… they are very elusive, and they’re very discreet about where they mate and give birth.”
Gauna said the animal’s estimated size and its movements helped convince him they were seeing an infant great white.
“It looked clumsy, the way it was swimming,” he told the paper. “It was kind of wobbly.”
Additionally, Sternes and Gauna noticed a white film that appeared to slough off of the shark’s skin and into the water. In their journal article, they theorize that it may have been remnants of an “intrauterine substance” — perhaps signifying that the shark had been born shortly before appearing on camera.
Their other theory: Instead of a newborn, it could have been a young shark with a skin condition.
Fellow shark experts lean toward this explanation — there was no way to know what the white coating may have been, and it’s hard to state anything definitively based on a single observation.
“Unless we can sample that white film and determine what it exactly is, we really can’t rule out this is an animal that has some kind of skin disorder,” Robert Hueter, senior science advisor for research nonprofit OCEARCH, told The Washington Post.
So, while this footage looks promising, it’s difficult to confirm that it’s a real-life baby shark. But for the tender hearts out there, don’t worry: Sharks are able to live independently at birth. Mommy shark’s work is done. Done-done-done-done-done-done.