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The Echo

The Student News Site of Tenafly High School

The Echo

The Student News Site of Tenafly High School

The Echo

A Possible First Look at a Newborn Great White Shark

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Carlos Gauna
A frontal view of the strange little shark.

As one of the world’s most iconic and recognizable animals, the formidable great white shark is no stranger to human media. So why has a newly published study about the majestic predator caused such an uproar within the marine biology community?

The study, Novel aerial observations of a possible newborn white shark (Carcharodon carcharias) in Southern California, first published on January 29 by wildlife filmmaker Carlos Gauna and University of California Riverside biology PhD candidate Philip Sternes, unveils what may be the first-ever documented instance of a newborn great white shark.

Great white sharks are ovoviviparous, which means a female nurtures eggs inside itself, and then gives birth to live young. However, in the history of shark science, not once has a newborn great white shark been captured on film. This is partially due to the sheer difficulty of keeping great white sharks in captivity—all past attempts have resulted in the sharks unfortunately passing away within days, or weeks at most. That in combination with the great white’s already elusive nature makes the lives of these amazing animals exceedingly difficult for scientists to document. In fact, all available knowledge on the pregnancies of great white sharks has been gathered from only a handful of females, leaving many gaps to be filled.

It was the evening of July 9, 2023. Gauna and Sternes were flying a drone off the coast of Carpinteria, California when it spotted something unusual 0.4 kilometers offshore. The southern California coast area is already known by scientists to be an area in which young sharks are active. Additionally, according to the collaborative study,large, likely mature sharks were also recorded in the area with [Gauna and Sternes’s] drone surveillance.”

“On this particular day, one such large shark was visible,” Gauna wrote in an Instagram post containing some images of the shark. “It disappeared just beyond the visual depths following some erratic yet unexpected movements. Shortly thereafter, this small, completely white covered white shark appeared. It was unlike anything I’ve seen before.”

In a video posted by Gauna on his Instagram account, a young shark of about 1.5 meters (or roughly 5 feet) is seen swimming with an unidentified white film sloughing off its skin, which Gauna and Sternes believe to be the embryonic coating of the shark.

“We propose two possibilities for this shark’s interesting pale color: (1) the whitish film is left over intrauterine substances being sloughed off the shark due to it being a newborn shark, or (2) the whitish film is due to an unknown skin disorder that has not been reported in white sharks before in the published literature,” Gauna and Sternes wrote in the study.

However, Gauna expressed doubts about the second theory regarding the shark’s mysterious shredding.

“This explanation does not take into account the shark’s unique morphology. Specifically the round fins and most vital, the round dorsal fin,” Gauna wrote in the description of a video uploaded to his YouTube channel, The Malibu Artist. “When compared to existing images of deceased neonates on record, the dorsal fin matches up precisely.”

So, what exactly does that mean? Why is the shark’s dorsal fin such an important piece of information for Gauna and Sternes?

Fins on all species of observed sharks change as the shark grows older and larger. Adult shark fins tend to be pointed and sharp, while younger shark fins are rounder at the edges. Data obtained from embryonic and infant sharks–referred to in Gauna and Sternes’s study as neonates—show that neonate fins are rounded and short as well. The fins on the little shark in the duo’s footage seem to match almost perfectly with the fins seen on deceased neonates from past records.

While the true indications of the shark’s white coating are still speculatory, Gauna and Sternes’s discovery will undoubtedly prove valuable to further research into the lives of these awe-inspiring apex predators. You can read the full published paper here, or visit Gauna’s socials—TheMalibuArtist on both Instagram and YouTube—to learn more.

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About the Contributor
Linda Xing, Staff Writer
Linda Xing ('25) is excited to be a Staff Writer for The Echo this year.