Never-before-seen Great White shark baby possibly caught on video off SoCal coast

Leanne Suter Image
Tuesday, January 30, 2024
Possible newborn Great White shark caught on video off SoCal coast
A small, nearly solid white shark swimming off the Santa Barbara coast may be the first Great White shark newborn ever caught on camera.

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. (KABC) -- Great White sharks are the largest predatory sharks in the world but little is known about their early years in life. But one Malibu filmmaker, in conjunction with researchers at UC Riverside, may have discovered a never-before-seen white shark baby.

A small, nearly solid white shark swimming off the Santa Barbara coast may be the first of its kind ever caught on camera. The possible newborn Great White shark is a prized discovery for shark scientists who know very little about the prime predator's reproduction.

Known as the Malibu Artist online, wildlife filmmaker and citizen scientist Carlos Gauna captured the shocking sight with his drone last July and was "totally surprised."

"When I first saw this small white shark, I honestly thought it was an albino white shark," he said.

The rare footage of the nearly all white 5-foot-long pup was recently published in the Environmental Biology of Fishes Journal by Gauna and UC Riverside biology doctoral student Phillip Sternes.

"We had been there eight hours and we filmed a very large, supposedly pregnant, female," Gauna recounted. "She goes down and within a five-minute window, this little baby shark comes up... It's not hard to deduce where it came from."

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Gauna argues that the milky film he captured coming off the animal is embryonic membrane from birth and says the shape of its dorsal fin doesn't match the pointed fins seen on older Great White sharks.

"This one is very, very rounded and it's not sharp," he said. "It makes sense because if it was sharp and pointed, it would make it very hard for the birthing process."

White sharks can give birth to between two and 10 babies at a time, but it has never been seen. Where it happens also remains a mystery.

The pair presented two theories in their peer-reviewed paper: It is either a newborn Great White or it has a skin condition. Either way, the surprising find is raising a lot of questions among shark scientists.

"This is what we call a sample size of one," said Chris Lowe, director of the Cal State Long Beach Shark Lab. "And then it leaves it really open to what does that really mean. I think that's part of the challenge but who knows, maybe next year he'll see it again."

Gauna says that's why having a scientific record of the find is key, and so is protecting the majestic creatures.

"If you love sea life, if you love animals in general... anywhere where animals are born should be sacred land... sacred waters," he said.

Gauna says he hopes his love of combining art and science and searching the seas for sharks and other amazing wildlife will be able to help answer some of the mysteries of the deep.