First-ever footage of newborn great white shark released

Carlos Gauna and Phillip Sternes captured the footage in Santa Barbara, CA.

January 29, 2024, 8:55 PM

Researchers are now one step closer on the mysterious path of examining one of the ocean's fiercest predators.

What is believed to be the world's first-ever footage of a newborn great white shark was released Monday, in the Environmental Biology of Fishes journal, and the 5-foot-long, white pup could make scientific history.

In July 2023, wildlife filmmaker Carlos Gauna and UC Riverside biology doctoral student Phillip Sternes were using drone cameras to scan the waters in Santa Barbara on California's central coast when they discovered what's believed to be a newborn great white shark that was veiled in a "milky" white substance.

Gauna told ABC News that he frequently filmed this area in Santa Barbara because he's seen "really large, adult-sized and possibly pregnant" sharks at that particular location. He noticed the sharks would show up in a three to four-week window, so "on a hunch" he made it a goal to observe sharks there "from sunrise to sunset" in the hopes of seeing a newborn great white shark.

On that fateful day, Gauna says they had already been filming for eight to nine hours when they saw a large shark go down in the water and disappear. "What came up was this beautiful, little, literally white, shark."

"I fell out of my seat in excitement as it was unlike anything I had ever seen before," Sternes told ABC News. Guana confirmed Sternes' reaction, saying, "He did, he literally fell out of his chair. I think he shed a tear. I was focused on flying but it was really an incredible moment."

The birthing location of great white sharks has always remained a mystery to researchers because wild, newborn great whites have never been seen alive.

"Where white sharks actually give birth to their pups remains one of the ocean's great mysteries," Tobey Curtis, a shark scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, told ABC News in a statement. "Very young white sharks have been observed and studied in a few places, including off southern California and Long Island, New York, but we still don't know precisely where they are born."

PHOTO: Haskell's Beach in Santa Barbara, California.
Haskell's Beach in Santa Barbara, California.
STOCK PHOTO/Getty Images

"We think we have a piece to the puzzle," Sternes said about his findings in Santa Barbara. "Research in the 80s suggested this could be a birthing location. If what we saw was a newborn, then it supports that proposition."

Sternes believes the milky white substance surrounding the newborn shark could be the pup shedding its embryonic layer.

Gregory B. Skomal, Ph.D., senior fisheries scientist at the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, told ABC News, "We can probably assume -- if that milky white coating is a result of being in the uterus recently -- that this shark was born within hours."

"I think it's a really fascinating observation. There's so much mystery when it comes to white shark reproductive biology," Skomal continued. "Every little bit we learn about these animals is quite fascinating."

Great white sharks are listed as "vulnerable" worldwide and "critically endangered" in Europe on the IUCN Red List. Sternes highlighted the importance of lawmakers protecting the waters where great white sharks are giving birth.

"It's a critical species for a healthy marine ecosystem, we have seen the loss of white sharks to other areas in the world have cascading effects on the ecosystem."

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