Great white hunter

Great white hunter

For years, scientists and swimmers alike have believed that great white sharks wander the sea randomly, with only an occasional trip near shore. But a new study sheds light on what’s really going on in the beautiful briny. Researchers from Stanford University in California observed Pacific white sharks spending months near the California coast from August to February foraging the northern and central areas of the coast for sea lions, elephant seals, and other sources of food. The study of the 10-member team, published online in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, found that the sharks likely pass near populated beaches, and have been seen as far inland as San Francisco Bay, east of the Golden Gate Bridge. Scientists tracking their movements found that each year the predators make such exacting migrations between the California and Hawaii that they have become genetically different from great whites elsewhere in the Pacific. The researchers say that “a major concentration” of great whites ignoring humans they might come across “shows us the sharks are really minding their own business. The number of interactions with people is very small, considering,” says one of the study’s authors. The findings are the result of a decade of work in which the scientists tagged nearly 200 great whites. The researchers also learned through satellite tagging that great whites left California each winter, traveling as much as 3,000 miles to Hawaii. The Stanford team calls one area along the route “white shark café,” because they believe that mating or foraging for food may occur there. Records indicate that male great whites group in a very specific part of the “café,” while females move in and out of the location. The head of the Stanford team says the great whites that swim off the California coasts most likely descend from specimens migrating from Australia and New Zealand during the late Pleistocene Epoch, around 150,000 to 200,000 years ago. Great whites number among the world’s most protected shark species, and the findings could have significant conservation implications for them. A census of great whites is being undertaken off California’s coast, since exact numbers of the creatures remain unknown. The researchers are hoping to add receivers close to popular beaches in order to monitor the sharks’ whereabouts.