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Western Australian Great White Shark

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Great white sharks, Carcharodon carcharias (Linnaeus, 1758), otherwise known as white pointers are uncommon sharks listed as vulnerable to extinction by the IUCN. They are one of two sharks protected in Australian waters, the other being Whale sharks, Rhincodon typus (Smith, 1828). Great whites have been protected in Western Australian waters for over a decade after being driven to the brink of extinction through indiscriminate hunting. Great whites can undertake vast oceanic crossings. In 2004 a shark was tagged in South Africa and made a return journey to the North West Cape and back (Bonfil et al., 2005). They also inhabit coastal and continental shelf waters and have been sighted throughout Western Australia but are most commonly encountered along the southern and south western coasts. They are rarely seen as far north as the North West Cape.

This female shark was estimated to be approximately 4m in length with very few unique scars. Identification images were compared to images of over 300 individual great whites collected over the last decade by scientists at South Australian Fisheries and Fisheries WA. No match was found meaning that she has not been observed at the Neptune Islands in South Australia, a known mature female aggregation site. It is possible that she hasn’t reached sexual maturity yet or it might suggest there is an alternative breeding aggregation somewhere else in Southern Australia. She may even be a South African shark that has dropped in for a visit.

A comprehensive tagging and tracking program has recently been implemented in Western Australian waters by the Department of Fisheries. This program is designed to identify factors influencing shark movements in order to better understand and manage interactions with humans. We are extremely fortunate to have had the rare opportunity to observe this apex predator in the wild. We very nearly lost this species to extinction before gaining even rudimentary knowledge of their biology and life history. The populations of hundreds of marine species are in similar crisis yet the oceans remain one of the least understood ecosystems on the planet. Oceanwise are progressing research providing new insights into some of the most critically endangered and threatened marine environments and species there are. Jump on board any of our marine expeditions and help avert the loss of these animals from the rich life experiences available to future generations.


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