First ever image of wild baby great white shark emerges 

A biologist and filmmaker have captured what might be the first images of a newborn great white shark in the wild.

Only adult and juvenile great white pups have been seen, never – until now, it seems – a newborn.

Known for growing to 3.5-5m in length and their reputation as the planet’s largest predatory fish, responsible for around 172 human deaths in the last century, the white shark (Carcharodon carcharias) is particularly elusive. While incidents of attacks on humans and other marine wildlife are readily documented, mating and birth have never been witnessed.

A newborn great white shark swims in blue-green ocean
Credit: Carlos Gauna/The Malibu Artist

The imagery released by filmmaker Carlos Gauna shows a 1.5m great white breaching the surface of the water near Santa Barbara.

“Where white sharks give birth is one of the holy grails of shark science,” Gauna says.

“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.”

Gauna captured the footage with UC Riverside biologist Philip Sternes. Their observations are also the subject of a report in the journal Environmental Biology of Fishes.

They observed an all-white colouration for the shark. Typically great whites are coloured grey along their topside and white on their underside. They also report observing this white layer being shed as it swam.

Sternes believes this was embryonic skin layers or ‘intrauterine milk’ being discarded by the newborn shark. Less likely, they suggest, this shedding could be the result of a skin condition.

“[We] realised 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,” Sternes says.

Sharks, unlike other fish, give birth to live young developed in a uterus. Within the womb, foetal sharks can obtain nutrition by feeding on unfertilized eggs, other foetuses or on a fatty milk secreted in utero by the mother.

The region where the imagery was captured is also home to many large (and likely pregnant) great white females, which Gauna and Sternes say supports the small shark being a new arrival.

“This one was likely hours, maybe one day old at most,” Sternes says. 

“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.”

If this area off the Santa Barbara coast is confirmed as a great white breeding ground, Sternes says it would be appropriate for local lawmakers to provide protection. Great white sharks are considered a vulnerable species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

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