Great White Sharks as Ambassadors
Six times—from 2004 to 2011—the Aquarium has exhibited young white sharks in our Open Sea exhibit. Seen by millions of visitors, these animals have helped us convey their powerful beauty, and educate visitors about the threats they face in the wild. After the first white shark in 2004 drew almost a million visitors, Executive Director Julie Packard called it "the most powerful emissary for ocean conservation in our history."
Three of the sharks stayed at the Aquarium for more than four months; one was on exhibit for two-plus months; and one remained with us for just 11 days. All were released healthy, and carried tracking tags that indicated they were doing well in the wild.
Our research involves:
Great White Shark Exhibit Research and Development: We're developing ways to collect and exhibit white sharks in a safe and sustainable way. This includes collecting white sharks from the wild, transferring them, improving their standard of care while on exhibit and ensuring a successful release.
Juvenile Great White Shark Research: Juvenile "young of the year" white sharks are found each summer in the Southern California Bight and as bycatch in the fisheries of Mexico and California. Yet we don't know where they're born, who the parents are, where breeding occurs or how they join adult populations. We're studying their movement, habitats, diet, population size and how they're affected by environmental toxins.
Adult Great White Shark Research: We're learning how to protect adult white sharks from overfishing and the effects of bycatch by studying their movement, population size and foraging patterns.
Great White Shark Genetics: To conserve white sharks, we need to know more about the movement between our coastal white sharks and those of Mexico, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Genetic (DNA) studies provide clues about population structure, parentage and the origins of white shark products found in global fish markets.
The Art and Science of Tagging
In most cases, before a shark is returned to the wild, we fit it with an externally attached, pop-up satellite tag with a tiny computer that collects and stores data on temperature, depth and light (used to estimate position). On a preprogrammed date, the tag pops off and floats to the surface. At the surface it transmits data to us via satellite. If the tag is recovered, even more data is retrieved. To date, scientists have tagged and tracked 18 juveniles and 167 adults.
Juvenile white shark tagging is coordinated by the Aquarium but partners include the Tuna Research and Conservation Center (TRCC), a collaboration between the Aquarium and Stanford University; the University of Hawaii; the Shark Lab at California State University, Long Beach; Chuck Winkler of the Southern California Marine Institute; and Dr. Oscar Sosa of Centro de Investigación Científica y de Educación Superior de Ensenada (CICESE) in Mexico.
Learn more in our Research and Conservation Report