A colossal great white shark has been documented swimming far up the Gulf of Mexico, unusually close to the shores of northwestern Florida.
The great white, named Unama’ki, is currently being watched using a tracking device by OCEARCH, a non-profit marine conservation group that collects data on great white sharks. Their latest “ping” from Unama’ki’s tracker showed that she was swimming far up the Gulf Of Mexico around 150 kilometers (93 miles) directly south of Panama City Beach in northwest Florida.
"Unama’ki, the biggest white shark currently pinging on the Tracker, is pinging pretty much as far north as we ever see white sharks go in the Gulf of Mexico," OCEARCH said on social media.
Measuring a huge 4.7 meters (15.4 feet) long and weighing 941 kilograms (2,076 pounds), Unama’ki is the latest animal to be tracked. As a mature female, she’s of particular interest as she could provide some insights into shark breeding and shark nurseries, phenomena that remain surprisingly unknown to science. Remarkably, people have never observed great white sharks breed or give birth.
Unama’ki was named after the word for Cape Breton in the language spoken by the indigenous Mi'kmaq people of Nova Scotia. This is where she was first spotted by OCEARCH in September 2019. Since then, she has traveled from Canada down the east coast of the US, around Florida, then up the Gulf of Mexico – an epic 4,410-kilometer (2,742-mile) journey – where she's been since October 2019.
That might seem pretty long, but great whites are seasoned travelers. Numerous researchers have noted schools of individuals independently migrating between Mexico and Hawaii. In other ocean basins, such as the Atlantic, individuals may migrate even longer distances. They are no stranger to the deep and dark depths of the oceans either, with one study documenting great white at depths of 1,128 meters (3,700 feet).
Great white sharks (Carcharodon carcharias) can be found in many seas across the globe, with notable concentrations in the US (northeast coast and California), South Africa, Japan, Chile, and the Mediterranean.
OCEARCH currently tracks 416 sharks. Most individuals can still be found around North America, although some have headed to South and Central America, while others can be located in places as far-flung as Europe, Africa, or Australia.
Their work has highlighted some incredible stories. In October 2019, they documented one of their great whites sharks, a 3.8-meter (12.5 foot) adult male named Vimy with two giant bite marks on his head.