Spotting a great white shark just 1,000 feet from shore is usually a very scary thing. On rare occasions, these predators, which can grow up to 20 feet long and weigh two tons, bite humans.
But that wasn't the case last summer, when a great white shark was spotted near Santa Barbara, California, because the shark was small. This marine animal was about five feet long and was probably only hours old.
This observation is now causing a stir among marine biologists. That's because, in Newly published paperThe researcher and filmmaker who captured the animal on camera points out that this shark is not only young, but a newborn. This would make him the first great white newborn observed in recorded history.
In a video taken by nature filmmaker Carlos Gaona, you can see what the authors describe as an indicator of infancy: a baby shark sheds a milky white substance that could be… Remnants of “uterine milk” produced by mother sharks while carrying their babies, according to Philip Stearns, a doctoral researcher at UC Riverside and author of this paper. (Stearns was with Gauna when the director's drone spotted the shark.)
The duo provided further evidence that the shark was a newborn: Not only did the animal look like a baby with round features, but it was also in an area that scientists believe to be baby white sharks. (Yes, happily, shark babies are called puppies.) In addition, Gauna observed great white sharks that… He said She appeared pregnant in this very place in the days before she noticed it.
Not everyone is convinced that the shark is a newborn.
“There is absolutely no doubt that it is a very small white shark,” Gavin Naylor, a shark researcher at the University of Florida, told Vox via email. Regarding whether it was a newborn, he added: “It seems most likely (to me) that this little animal was perhaps two weeks old and got lost in shallow water.”
There are some details here that make for a compelling response: According to Naylor, the few pregnant white sharks that scientists have dissected do not appear to have the kind of white fluid that came out of the baby shark. White sharks usually give birth to a litter of eight to 12 pups, not just one, so you might expect other newborns to be swimming nearby.
In the paper, Stearns and Jonah admit that the white substance that the shark is peeling off could be caused by an unknown skin disorder, and not a sign that it is newborn.
But what is clear from the observation – and from the reaction to it – is that our understanding of even the world's most charismatic species is still full of holes. “Despite the high level of interest, there remain some significant gaps in the life history of white sharks,” Stearns and Jonah wrote in their paper. (One reason: It is very Difficult To keep white sharks in captivity.)
It's not just white sharks that are mysterious, Naylor said. He added that whale sharks, the largest fish in the world, can give birth to up to 300 pups at a time and scientists do not know where this happens.
“We know much less than people assume about most life on Earth,” Naylor said. “Precisely pinpointing where different species of sharks give birth is one of hundreds of millions of things we don't yet know.”
These gaps in our understanding are undoubtedly humbling – parts of the world are still unknown, and there are still frontiers to explore. However, they also represent a weak point in our efforts to protect life on Earth. The lack of scientific knowledge about the species makes it difficult to implement the right type of conservation. Simply put, it's hard to protect sharks if you don't have a picture of something as basic as where their life begins.
The world's white shark population appears to be declining, at least in some areas. according to International Union for Conservation of Nature. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a threatened species body, classifies these species as “vulnerable.” However, they are not federally listed as endangered in the United States. And in California, data She suggests White shark numbers may be increasing, making it a stronghold for this species.
“If this is indeed a newborn individual, it demonstrates the critical importance of this area in southern California for white sharks in the eastern Pacific,” Stearns and Jonah wrote in the paper. Although white sharks in California are protected under federal regulations, they are still caught accidentally, which can cause harm and even death, they said.
“More research is needed to confirm that these waters are indeed a breeding ground for eggs,” Stearns says He said In the current situation. “But if that happens, we want lawmakers to step in and protect these waters to help white sharks continue to thrive.”
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