First-ever video of newborn great white shark unveiled in a groundbreaking discovery. Renowned wildlife photographer and videographer, Carlos Gauna, known for his tireless efforts to unveil the mysteries of these oceanic giants, has achieved a remarkable feat.
After years of venturing into the depths, Gauna has unveiled footage believed to depict an infant great white shark shortly after birth. This revelation marks a significant milestone in our understanding of these apex predators, shedding light on previously unseen aspects of their existence.
I want to kind of tell the story of what sharks do when we aren't watching, we aren't interacting with them, when we're not touching them. And through that experience, I've seen some sharks doing some really wild things, things that have no explanation. You never know what you're going to see.- Carlos Gauna
Embarking on July 9th of the previous year, Gauna embarked on his journey with no inkling of what lay ahead. After meticulously studying sharks in the Santa Barbara region for three years, he observed a congregation of "remarkably large sharks" during a specific month.
"It's always food or reproduction or something," he said. "They're coming here for a reason."
The birthing behaviors of great white sharks remain largely shrouded in mystery within the scientific community. Based on researchers' observations, these creatures undergo a gestation period exceeding a year, with mother sharks typically bearing between two to 10 pups at once. Using an ovoviviparous reproductive strategy, the embryos develop within eggs inside the mother's body before emerging through live birth after full maturation.
Gauna's suspicions regarding birthing activity among the local sharks were initially met with skepticism from scientists, who commonly asserted that white sharks prefer deeper waters for birthing. Undeterred, he embarked on his research alongside his partner, Phillip Sternes, a doctoral student in biology at the University of California, Riverside. With only the second-to-last battery remaining in his drone, they witnessed a significant event: a sizable shark descending into the depths, approximately 1,000 feet from the shoreline.
"Just a few minutes later, this little bitty thing comes up from that spot," he said, saying that at first they thought the roughly 5-foot-long nearly purely white animal may have been an albino shark. "It was tiny - really, really small compared to all the other sharks."
Upon reviewing the footage, Gauna made a curious observation: a white film was seen sloughing off the shark's body as it gracefully traversed through the water.
"I think Phil's words were, 'Oh my God, I think that might be a newborn,'" he said. In a press release, he added, "There have been dead white sharks found inside deceased pregnant mothers. But nothing like this." A great white shark swimming near a boat
Despite some scientists suggesting the observed phenomenon was a skin condition, Gauna, whose research findings were recently peer-reviewed and published in the journal Environmental Biology of Fishes, proposes a different interpretation. He contends that what they witnessed was likely the newborn shark shedding intrauterine milk. This hypothesis aligns with a separate 2022 study by other researchers, which indicates that white sharks produce a nutrient-rich secretion called uterine milk within their uterine walls for embryonic nutrition.
Gauna further supports his theory by pointing out the size, shape, and previous sightings of pregnant sharks in the area, indicating the likelihood of encountering a newborn. The shark measured approximately five feet in length, a characteristic size for newborn great whites, with a distinctively short and rounded fin.
I just don't see how a skin disorder explains this. Given the size of the shark, given the unique roundness of that dorsal fin - they can't give birth with a dorsal fin that's straight and long, straight and pointed. They have to be rounded in order to exit.- Carlos Gauna
Gauna explained that capturing a live birth across any species is a rare occurrence due to its unpredictable nature. While stumbling upon a newborn shark may not be deemed the "holy grail" of shark science since it doesn't directly involve witnessing the birth, Gauna emphasized its significance as a crucial component for researchers. This discovery holds particular importance for great white sharks, given their vulnerable status on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species.
"Filming in the ocean is one of the hardest things to do on this planet," he said. "[With great whites] we've always believed it's deep, it's offshore. So this is why I think this is very significant in that maybe we should start looking closer to shore."
For Gauna, the research journey is far from over. His fascination with sharks traces back to his childhood at the age of 5, when a toy shark in the bath sparked his interest. Throughout the years, he's witnessed these creatures endure significant harm, from boat collisions to fishing impacts. He recounted an instance where he stumbled upon a dead great white with its jaws grotesquely manipulated by a rope, in the same location where he later found the newborn shark.
Expressing deep concern for their well-being, Gauna emphasized the necessity for further research and protection measures for these enigmatic creatures. He remains committed to delving deeper into the mysteries surrounding these creatures, describing them as "curious, calm, and calculating."
Any nursery for any species should be considered important. We're gonna go back and see if we can capture it again.- Carlos Gauna