We May Finally Have Solved One Of The Biggest Mysteries About Great White Sharks


Robin Andrews

Science & Policy Writer

An adult great white shark. Not as adorable as the younglings, clearly. Brook Ward/Flickr; CC BY-NC 2.0

Just this week, it was revealed – rather touchingly – that scientists had named a newly discovered species of shark flitting around the Gulf of Mexico after the late-Dr Eugenie Clark. Arguably the world’s most pioneering shark biologist, her key message to the public was, in crude terms, sharks are amazing – fear them not.

Hot off the heels of this paper comes another one that the famous “Shark Lady” would surely have enjoyed: Thanks to a huge effort by a crack team of especially inventive American researchers, we now finally know where baby great white sharks (Carcharodon carcharias) hang out and migrate around in the North Atlantic.


Baby great white sharks are often spotted along the Atlantic coast of the US, all the way from New Jersey to Long Island. It’s not yet clear, however, where precisely they start and stop their journey, and if there are any shark nurseries in the region that hadn’t yet been discovered.

A shark nursery is, generally speaking, where baby sharks are found in greater numbers than other places – and the most recent was found back in 2016, offshore of Long Island. Are there any others? What’s the shark superhighway system like down there beneath the waves?

In order to find out, the team this time around had to effectively track the little, oft-misunderstood beasties, and that’s by far easier said than done.

Thankfully, the researchers – led by the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Florida Atlantic University – were up to the task: They managed to successfully tag 10 baby great white sharks with both satellite trackers and acoustic tags, allowing them to follow their journeys in multiple ways.

Tagging baby great white sharks looks fun! R. Snow/OCEARCH

It turns out that, as suspected, the southeastern shores of Long Island, and the New York Bight in general, was a key area for these tiny ones, especially between August and October. The team suspect that the shallower waters here help them evade annihilation by predators.

At the end of that period of time, the sharks moved south, and hung out near the Carolinas’ shelf waters. Then, as spring came around, they moved back to the New York Bight.

This paper is a bit of a revelation for shark biologists and marine conservationists. It provides, according to the team, the “first descriptions of the movements and seasonal migrations of young-of-the-year white sharks in the North Atlantic Ocean.”

This is an enormous basin with complex ecosystems that are directly affected by human activity – sadly, in a mostly negative way, through pollution, fishing, and climate change. The more we know about their lives, the better we can hope to protect them, and much about them still remains enigmatic.


This is, of course, just the beginning. The team point out that the acoustic tags have a battery life of 10 years, and this study demonstrates that we can use this tech to observe how great white sharks grow and change over time, and assess how different life stages affect their behavior.

Apart from having a clear scientific benefit, increased understanding about great white sharks benefits the wider public too. These apex predators are perceived by much of the public to be perpetual terrors and menaces to beachgoers (they’re not), whereas in fact humans kill an unbelievable amount of them every single year. We’re the real threat, and these animals are absolutely vital parts of the food chain.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists great white sharks as “vulnerable”. Excellent research like this – published in Scientific Reports, incidentally – only helps to push them toward a safer category.


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