YouTuber Carlos Gauna, who goes as TheMalibuArtist on the video sharing platform, has captured what could be the first aerial observations of a newborn white shark (Carcharodon carcharias). Gauna shot the video with his drone from a beach near Santa Barbara, California, on July 9th last year, but has just shared it on YouTube. In the description to the video, which has garnered more than 800,000 views to date, Gauna writes, he believes the highest likelihood is that the footage shows a newborn white shark. “While determining the exact age of the shark is nearly impossible,” he writes, “there are several key observations that support this being a newborn.”
As Gauna points out in the video description, he is not a marine biologist, rather a filmmaker and photographer with a fascination for sharks. But as it happens, when he was filming the shark, Gauna was with Phil Sternes, a shark researcher from the University of California, Riverside. The pair observed white flakes left behind in the water behind the shark, which Sternes says could be evidence the animal had just been born and still had a mucus-like membrane on its body. Another clue that particularly excited Sternes was the shape of the fins, which were more rounded than usual—something you see in shark embryos and newborns. James Worthington, from the University of San Diego, helped determine the shark’s size—about 1.5 meters (4.9 feet) long, roughly the right size for a newborn.
Gauna and Sternes have co-authored a scientific paper on their observation, which has just been published in the journal Environmental Biology of Fishes. However, some in the scientific community aren’t so sure the animal captured on film is definitely a white shark newborn. “Sure, this could be a newborn shark, or it could be a shark with a skin disease, or it could be a number of other things we haven’t even thought of,” Dr Chris Lowe, from California State University’s shark lab, tells the BBC. “Unfortunately, it’s a sample size of one. I think many scientists would agree that in order for us to consider this area a pupping location, we would need a lot more evidence.”
However, Dr Lowe agrees that great whites are indeed rather common along California’s beaches and that they frequently get close to humans—something that Gauna’s drone videos have repeatedly demonstrated. “We just completed a two-year study where one of my grad students went out and flew drone surveys at 26 California beaches every month for two years,” says Dr Lowe. “What they found was at aggregation sites where we have juvenile white sharks day in day out, there were interactions with people every single day—multiple interactions.”
Perhaps it’s only a matter of time before Carlos Gauna finally fulfills his dream of being the first person to film a great white shark being born.
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