"Holy grail" of shark science: Newborn great white shark caught on video for first time ever

The shark pup may help scientists solve a longstanding mystery about how and where great whites breed

By Rae Hodge

Staff Reporter

Published January 30, 2024 1:26PM (EST)

Newborn great white shark. (Carlos Gauna/The Malibu Artist)
Newborn great white shark. (Carlos Gauna/The Malibu Artist)

In what may yet be the first-ever recorded sighting, a newborn great white shark pup (Carcharodon carcharias) has been captured on video. The pup was captured by wildlife filmmaker Carlos Guana and University of California Riverside biology doctoral student Phillip Sternes in July, with their findings published Monday in the journal Environmental Biology of Fishes. Though female great whites give live birth, mothers can nourish pups in utero with a "milk" secreted for the pups — and Sternes believes what the duo saw "was the baby shedding the intrauterine milk."

“Where white sharks give birth is one of the holy grails of shark science. No one has ever been able to pinpoint where they are born, nor has anyone seen a newborn baby shark alive ... There have been dead white sharks found inside deceased pregnant mothers. But nothing like this,” Gauna said in a release, adding that it could be possible the shark pup simply has a skin condition, but "if that is what we saw, then that too is monumental because no such condition has ever been reported for these sharks.”

The pup was filmed only about 1,000 feet from the shore and was of such a young age that the researchers believe this indicates it had to have been born in the shallow waters where it was caught on video, particularly since the area has a large presence of pregnant great whites which the duo had been watching. If so, the finding could contradict the wider belief among scholars that these sharks are born further out to sea. Sternes said further research is needed to confirm whether the southern California waters are a great white breeding ground. But that if it is, he and Guana would want lawmakers to step in and protect the species, which is internationall listed as endangered. As previously reported by Salon, many swimmers seemingly have no idea that they regularly share waters with these massive sharks.