First-ever Sighting of Newborn Great White Shark off the Coast of California

The first sighting of a newborn great white shark has been revealed in a new image that captured a five-foot-long, all-white predator swimming of the coast of California.

The newborn great white shark was believed to be just hours old when scientists spotted it only 1,000 feet from the beach in Santa Barbara.

Researchers at the University of California – Riverside captured the amazing photograph, revealing the newborn was shedding its embryotic layer. 

A newborn great white shark believed to be only hours old was filmed off the coast of Santa Barbara, California in 2023

Where great white sharks give birth has always been a mystery as scientists have been unable to track their location, but on July 9, 2023, luck smiled on two filmmakers who were scanning the area for sharks. 

‘Where white sharks give birth is one of the holy grails of shark science,’ said Wildlife filmmaker Carols Gauna, who took the photos alongside UC Riverside PhD student Phillip Sternes.

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‘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 has observed the coast of Santa Barbara for years and has filmed likely pregnant great white sharks, but while the area is proposed as a possible birthing site, this is the first time there is evidence.

This might be the first newborn great white shark ever recorded

The two filmmakers acknowledged that the shark’s shedding could have been a skin condition but they don’t believe that’s the case because it hasn’t been previously reported for this type of shark.

‘If that is what we saw, then that too is monumental, because no such condition has ever been reported for these sharks,’ Gauna said. However, the filmmakers believe the pup could have been shedding embryonic fluid, which is more likely due to it being just a few hours old.

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Gauna said he saw three pregnant great white sharks in the area in the days leading up to filming the newborn pup. ‘I filmed three very large sharks that appeared pregnant at this specific location in the days prior,’ said Gauna.

‘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. ‘This may well be the first evidence we have of a pup in the wild, making this a definitive birthing location.’

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If the spot is indeed a breeding location, action might be needed to preserve and protect the species which was internationally labeled as endangered in 2006.

Great white sharks live worldwide, but their species is threatened by poaching and fishing.

While their population is difficult to track, the species declined by roughly 80 percent in North America, prompting the U.S. to implement laws protecting great white sharks.

Great white sharks are the most widely studied shark species in the world, and a report by the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) revealed that two-thirds of the species are at risk of extinction.

‘If we don’t do anything, it will be too late,’ Nick Dulvy, a biologist and co-author of a 2021 study on the global decline of sharks told CNN last year.

He added: ‘It’s much worse than other animal populations we’ve been looking at.’

What makes the great white shark unique is their slow reproduction rate because they can take decades to reach breeding age, can have pregnancies lasting up to three years, and produce small litters, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Since the laws were first introduced in the 1990s, the great white shark population has been increasing in the Northwest Atlantic and could no longer be at risk of becoming endangered in U.S. waters, NOAA reported.

Speaking about the newborn great white, 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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