Conservation & Science

New insights to help young white sharks survive

What can scientists studying white sharks learn from an expert on mountain lions? As it turns out, quite a lot.

Monterey Bay Aquarium and its research colleagues have been tagging juvenile white sharks in southern California since 2002. Now they’ve gained new insights into white shark survival from those data tags. Photo courtesy Steve McNicholas

Such a collaboration is on display in new research published in the Journal of Applied Ecology. Models that estimate survival rates for top predators on land, according to the study, can also work in the ocean. The research also revealed important safeguards that can help protect white sharks while they’re young and vulnerable.

At the heart of the effort was the work of lead author John Benson. Before taking his current role as a professor at the University of Nebraska, John was a post-doctoral researcher at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, working with senior research scientist Sal Jorgensen.

Young white shark on exhibit at Monterey Bay Aquarium.

“We always learn things from adjacent fields,” says Sal, who specializes in white sharks, and who coauthored the paper along with six others. “John made his name studying mountain lions in Southern California.”

John’s past work also involved black bears in Louisiana, panthers in Florida, wolves and coyotes in Canada, and moose and their various predators in Alaska. After so much experience on land, John saw working with Sal at the aquarium as a chance to—as the saying goes—get his feet wet. Read more…

Unlikely landing for white shark tag

For the first time since we started tagging juvenile white sharks in southern California more than a decade ago, we’ve retrieved one of the tags in Monterey Bay.

Data tag washed up on a Monterey Bay area beach 10 months after it was fitted on a juvenile white shark off the southern California coast.
This data tag washed up on a Monterey Bay area beach 10 months after it was fitted on a juvenile white shark off the southern California coast.

The tag spent 10 months on a young shark before it popped free over Labor Day weekend and washed ashore just north of the Pajaro River, in Santa Cruz County. Several aquarium staff members went beachcombing and found the data-rich tag on Sunday, near the high tide line.

The tag showed up in an area where a number of young white sharks have been spotted in recent weeks. Several were featured on Big Blue Live when they were caught on camera by airborne film crews. Our white shark research scientist Sal Jorgensen photographed the sharks this week as well.

An aquarium team scoured the beach north of the Pajaro River. They found the shark tag near the high tide line.
An aquarium team scoured the beach north of the Pajaro River. They found the shark tag near the high tide line.

Our research team speculates that unseasonably warm sea temperatures drew the young sharks far north of their usual haunts off southern California and the Baja Peninsula.

The shark was collected and tagged on November 6, 2014 in Santa Monica Bay by our research partners with the Southern California Marine Institute and the California State University Long Beach Shark Lab. At the time, it was about 6.5 feet in length and weighed 146 pounds. Based on its size, they estimated it to be just over a year old.

Juvenile white shark spotted in Monterey Bay the week of September 7.
Juvenile white shark spotted in Monterey Bay the week of September 7.

No other juvenile white shark has carried a data tag this long, so our white shark team is eager to download the information stored on the tag. They’ll learn where the shark journeyed over the past 10 months, and the water temperatures it favored.

We and our colleagues have tagged 93 sharks since we began tagging juveniles in 2002. Data from the tagged animals show a seasonal migration pattern between southern California and Mexico, with the sharks appearing to seek out warmer waters.

This is the first time young white sharks have been seen in such numbers in Monterey Bay since the last El Niño event in 1997.

Here’s a video showing some of the young white sharks in the bay’s warmer waters this summer.

Learn more about our shark research program.

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