They are among the ocean's most prominent predators, but an important part of their existence has never been recorded or even seen before – until now. For the first time ever, a baby great white shark is believed to have been captured on camera, shortly after it was born.
For years, wildlife photographer and videographer Carlos Gaona has ventured out and spent hours photographing sharks, a process he calls the quest to uncover “the secret lives of sharks.”
“I want to tell the story of what sharks do when we don't see them, when we don't interact with them, when we don't touch them,” he told CBS News. “…And through that experience, I've seen some sharks do some really wild things, things that have no explanation. …You never know what you're going to see.”
When Gauna set off on July 9 last year, he had no idea what he would encounter. After spending three years monitoring sharks in the Santa Barbara area, he said he noticed a gathering of “really big sharks” during a given month.
“It's always food or reproduction or something,” he said. “They come here for a reason.”
Birth customsLargely unknown to the scientific community. From what the researchers observed, the animals' gestation period exceeds a year, with mother sharks usually carrying between two and 10 young at a time. Animals are oviparous, meaning that the eggs containing their embryos hatch inside their bodies but are later released through live birth after they are fully developed.
Gaona doubted that sharks in this area might give birth, but when he brought the matter up to scientists and did research, he said he was mostly told that white sharks would only give birth in deeper waters. But then, using the penultimate battery in his drone, he and his partner, UC Riverside biology doctoral student Philip Stearns, noticed a very large shark descending underwater about 1,000 feet from shore.
“Just a few minutes later, this little thing popped out of that spot,” he told CBS News, saying they initially thought the roughly 5-foot-long white animal might have been an albino shark. “…It was very small – really small compared to all the other sharks.”
He then replayed the video, and noticed a white film falling off the shark while it was swimming.
“I think Phil's words were: 'Oh my God, I think this might be a newborn,'” he said. in press releaseHe added: “Dead white sharks have been found inside dead pregnant mothers. But nothing like this.”
Some of the scientists the duo spoke to believed what they observed was a skin condition, but Gaona — whose findings were peer-reviewed and published Monday in the journal Fish Environmental Biology — believes what they witnessed was a newborn shark secreting milk inside the uterus. According to a separate 2022 study by other researchers, white sharks produce a “lipid-rich secretion to nourish the fetus” known as Uterine milk inside the uterine wall.
He also said the shark's size and shape, combined with the fact that pregnant sharks had previously been seen in the area, suggested it was a newborn. The shark was about five feet long — the typical size for newborns — and its fin was short and rounded.
“I don't see how a skin disorder explains this,” he said. “Given the size of the shark, and given the unique roundness of that dorsal fin, it cannot give birth with a straight, long, straight, pointy dorsal fin. It has to be rounded in order to exit.”
Capturing a live birth of any species is rare, Gaona said, because it is “unpredictable.” Although, finding a newborn shark isn't exactly easy exhibition On the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.Because it's not about the birth itself, Gaona said it's a “key element” that can help researchers get there. It is especially important for great whites, where the species is taken into account
“Photography in the ocean is one of the hardest things to do on the planet,” he said. “…[With great whites] We always thought it was deep, that it was far from shore. That's why I think this is so important because maybe we have to start looking closer to shore.”
For Jonah, the search is not over yet. He has been fascinated by sharks since he was five years old, when he had a toy shark that he played with in the bathroom. Over the years, he says he has witnessed the animals sustain significant damage, including boat collisions and fishing strikes. At one point, he said, he photographed a dead great white animal that had “a rope tied around its mouth and its jaws pulled out” — in the same spot where he photographed the newborn.
Gaona said the animals need more research and protection, and he plans to continue investigating the “strange, quiet and delicate creatures” that are still too mysterious to the scientific community.
“Any nursery of any species should be considered important,” he said. “…We'll come back and see if we can capture it again.”
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