Exhibit of young great white sharks is one part of the Aquarium's Project White Shark, an effort by the Aquarium and its research colleagues to learn more about great white sharks in the wild as well as to inspire visitors to become advocates for shark conservation by bringing them face-to-face with sharks on exhibit.
Our White Sharks
The first white shark, a female, was in the Outer Bay exhibit for 198 days in 2004 before being released into Monterey Bay—the longest-ever exhibit of a white shark.
During her six-and-a-half-month stay, she was seen by nearly a million visitors and became, in the words of Aquarium Executive Director Julie Packard, "the most powerful emissary for ocean conservation in our history."
The five other great white sharks we've had on exhibit—three males and two females—were all returned to the wild. We displayed our second white shark for four-and-a-half months in 2006–07, a third animal for five-and-a-half months in 2007–08, a fourth shark for 11 days in 2008, a fifth shark for three months in 2009 and a sixth shark for 55 days in 2011.
Most of our white sharks are collected in August in southern California waters with the help of a spotter plane and a commercial fishing crew using a purse seine net. Some have been collected inadvertently by commercial fishermen. The sharks remain in an ocean holding pen, sometimes for two weeks, until we confirm that they're feeding and swimming well before we transport them to the Aquarium and introduce them into our million-gallon Open Sea exhibit.
Many of our sharks have thrived on exhibit, gaining up to one foot in length and 100 pounds.
Two sharks were transported south and released near Santa Barbara, while four were released in Monterey Bay. "Decisions about where and when to release great white sharks are always governed by our concern for the health and well-being of the animals under our care," says Jon Hoech, director of husbandry for the Aquarium. These factors include how they feed, navigate the exhibit and their behavior toward other animals.
Tracking tag data indicate that released great white sharks have traveled distances of up to 2,000 miles, as far as the southern tip of Baja California, and to depths of 1,000 feet. Data from the tags confirms that five successfully returned to the wild and thrived for long periods. One died four months after release in a fisherman's net in Baja California, and one died soon after release from unknown causes.
GREAT WHITE SHARK CONSERVATION
The Monterey Bay Aquarium's Project White Shark is promoting innovative study, awareness and conservation of these magnificent animals. By tagging and exhibiting great white sharks we can promote public understanding and protection of this ecologically important and threatened species.
Sharks Need Space
Many species of sharks and rays return to the same place to breed where they were born—so setting aside protected areas is crucial to maintaining their populations. Marine Protected Areas—the so-called Yosemites of the Sea—can help wildlife recover and thrive.