Great White Shark Found Dead On Californian Beach Spurs Criminal Investigation

A different great white shark carcass. Theocerbo/Shutterstock

Thanks to irresponsible fishing practices, sport hunting, and the lucrative Asian fin market, shark populations across the globe are being driven to the point of no return. A recent study reported that more than 30 percent of all shark species – and their cartilaginous cousins, the rays – are now endangered, threatened, or vulnerable. Despite this, humans continue to kill an estimated 273 million sharks per year

Hoping to preserve these iconic creatures (want to see a shark boop?), many of which are ecosystem-critical apex predators, scientists and conservation groups have successfully lobbied governments across the world to crack down on shark harvesting. Of course, people being people, even sharks in protected areas are not completely safe.


Thus, when the carcass of a sizable and apparently uninjured male juvenile great white shark (Carcharodon carcharias) washed up on the beach in Aptos, California, this week, local officials sounded the alarm.


According to a report by KION, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) swooped in to collect the 2.45-meter (8-foot) long, 227 kilogram (500 pounds) remains. The agency confirmed that researchers at the nearby University of California Santa Cruz's Long Marine Lab performed a necropsy to determine cause of death but have remained cagey on the details.

Multiple outlets have reported – and video footage corroborates – that cuts were visible on the shark’s body. However, experts who saw the carcass do believe these wounds were standard shark wear-and-tear, due to frequent clashes with their prey and occasional confrontations with other sharks or orcas, and not serious enough to be fatal

“[I]t could have swallowed some debris or junk. It could have a hook injury, you know try to steal somebody’s fish and swallow a hook and if it hooks in the wrong spot they’ll bleed out just like a salmon,” Sean Van Sommeran of the Pelagic Shark Research Foundation told KION.


“Or it could be one of the pathogens we’ve identified through the study since 2007 with a number of different sharks.” 

Whatever the examination revealed, it certainly appears to have raised the CDFW’s eyebrows.

"Upon receiving the lab's necropsy results, the CDFW's Law Enforcement Division is now taking up the investigation," a representative from CDFW told Live Science, then declined to comment further.


Currently listed as vulnerable – and therefore not eligible for safeguarding under the US Endangered Species Act, the species is protected by several federal and state laws and restrictions, including some specific to the San Francisco Bay Area (Aptos falls in this region).  


And because we are living in the age of outrage, one UCSC marine biologist was inundated with hateful tweets when she posted a photo of herself laying alongside the carcass. The local scientist was using her body as a measurement reference in case the shark was washed back to sea before equipped CDFW rangers arrived on the scene, but many people interpreted the resulting image as a shameful selfie and lashed out without knowing the backstory.


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  • Chondrichthyes