Jaws is back and she’s got babies.
Even though great white sharks have been on this Earth for thousands of years and have held a place in pop culture for decades, there is still little known about these apex predators. Scientists aren’t sure how these animals mate and have never witnessed a great white shark give birth, so recent news of a great white shark nursery in the Northern Atlantic is colossal.
According to Smithsonian, research group Ocearch, led by former Shark Wranglers host Chris Fischer, believes the waters off Montauk, Long Island, in New York may be a sort of baby shark daycare center, after finding and tagging 9 great white shark pups in the area in the last two weeks.
“[This is] definitely the nursery, likely the birthing site,” Fischer tells Jeff Glor of CBS This Morning. “Probably the most important significant discovery we’ve ever made on the ocean.”
This is the first great white shark nursery found in the North Atlantic, joining similar spots in South Africa and Australia. The rare find will hopefully offer researchers insight about these elusive creatures, especially in regards to their breeding and migratory patterns.
Ocearch discovered the spot thanks to a female shark named Mary Lee, a tribute to Fischer’s mother. Mary Lee was originally captured and tagged in the area of the recently discovered nursery, so when the animal returned to the spot earlier this month researchers decided to follow her.
“The strategy at the time was get a tag out on big mature animals, and when you get one on a big female, 18 months later, she should lead you to the holy grail of the research, the birthing site,” Fischer told CBS.
The plan paid off, Mary Lee led them straight to a large group of juvenile sharks, which means the babies birth site is likely nearby. Scientists believe the young sharks stay in the nursery, which offers protection and abundant food, before heading out into the ocean on their own.
Young sharks picked up by the research group were brought on to the boat and carefully tagged, a process Ocearch says does not hurt the animals, and then released back into the big blue. Since even less is known about baby great whites, the group hopes this find will help them understand why Long Island is the shark birthing destination of choice in the North Atlantic.
Scientists are looking to see if the numerous great whites spotted in Cape Cod are related to the newly tagged babies. If the swimmers are related, it could mean that great whites mate farther north and then come down to Long Island to give birth.
To keep track of the babies and any other sharks tagged by Ocearch, check out their shark tracker.