You probably already know about Deep Blue without realizing it. To put it simply, Deep Blue is a shark. A big shark. Thanks to her size, she has become famous the world over and brings awareness to the misconceptions about sharks, and their threatened and endangered lifestyles. But before I start on why Deep Blue is so important, I’ll start by giving you some more information about who Deep Blue is and what we know of her. The first known recording of Deep Blue was actually back in 1999 (Shark Diving Xperts), but at the time she was only known as just another great white shark. She was spotted off the coast of Guadalupe Island, an infamous island in the Pacific Ocean off of Mexico, known for its high concentrations of great white sharks. She only became the famous Deep Blue, however, in 2013. She was caught on video swimming up to a shark cage, again off of Guadalupe Island. Inside the cage, shark researcher and conservationist Dr. Mauricio Hoyos worried Deep Blue was coming too close to the cage, so swam out of the cage to push her away
Dr. Padilla was able to estimate Deep Blue to be over 20 feet (over 6m) and likely, based on shark growth patterns, was over 50 years old, one of the largest and oldest sharks we know of to be living. And the most impressive part? Deep Blue was pregnant. You can see in the photo that Deep Blue looks incredibly wide and barrel-shaped in the middle, indicating she was she was heavy into her gestation cycle. The next time Deep Blue was spotted was in 2014, when she featured as part of Discovery Channel’s Shark Week in the episode Jaws Strikes Back. Marine Biologist Greg Skomal and his team traveled to Guadalupe Island to study the hunting behavior of great whites feeding on the seals in the area. The footage from the episode reveals that Deep Blue was almost as large as the 22 foot (6.6m) boat that the crew was working on.
Following this extraordinary encounter, Deep Blue disappeared from the public eye for several years, not being spotted again until January of 2019, when shark researchers encountered her feeding on a sperm whale carcass off the coast of Oahu. A few days later shark ethologist and conservationist Ocean Ramsay made headlines world over by free diving with a massive female great white while monitoring the sperm whale carcass. Photos with her became infamous swimming alongside a 20 foot (over 6m) pregnant female shark that was rumored to be Deep Blue. However, several prominent shark researchers specializing in shark identification at Guadalupe Island have pointed out that the popular photos are not of Deep Blue but are from another giant female named Haole Girl.
So in the end, why does Deep Blue matter? Why is it important to keep track of her any more than other great whites? Does it really matter in the end that Ocean Ramsay swam with Haole Girl instead of Deep Blue? The answer lies in the fact that these sharks provide critical information for research and by going viral, help educate the public about sharks and shark conservation.
One of the most amazing facts about Deep Blue is that multiple times when she has been spotted, she has been pregnant. Great white sharks are elusive when it comes to mating and reproduction, so having the most famous living shark commonly be spotted pregnant gives the world an amazing glimpse into this little known part of their lives.
Great whites don’t reach sexual maturity until very late in life, estimated to be around 26 years for males and 33 years for females by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Great white sharks are oviviparous, which is a fancy term for saying they grow and lay eggs inside the mother, who then keeps the living young in the womb during gestation. Females have an eleven month gestation period before giving birth in spring and summer. This long gestation period means females usually breed every other year, sometimes even skipping years depending on various factors such as scarce food or availability of mates.
The whole reproduction cycle is extremely slow, starting from the great whites taking so long to reach sexual maturity to long gestation periods and infrequent mating. This all causes great white sharks to be extremely vulnerable to population drops due to hunting, scarce food from overfishing, and unsuccessful pregnancies or health problems caused by bioamplification.
Great White Sharks are famous the world over for being one of nature’s most efficient hunters, with million of years of evolution going into their body design and hunting patterns. Yet this does not mean they are invincible. Humans can and have already caused a huge reduction in the size of the Great White Shark population around the world due to killing them, removing their food sources, and making it difficult for them to successfully reproduce. One study done in the Northwest Atlantic showed an estimated 79% decline in their population rate between 1992 and 2003 (Baum et al. http://science.sciencemag.org/content/299/5605/389)
So the question now is, what can we do to fix this? There are many ways you can help to make a difference not only for Great Whites but for all marine life as well. One of the simplest things you can do that makes a huge impact for these amazing ocean giants into stop eating seafood. If you don’t support the fishing industry, then there is no reason for us to remove the food source for these sharks. Overfishing is a major problem around the world and by cutting seafood out of your life, you can make a difference to help protect ocean ecosystems from collapsing. On top of this, you remove the risk of sharks being caught and killed as by catch. If you must eat seafood, then you can follow Seafood Watch, a program run by the Monterey Bay Aquarium that lists what types of seafood are sustainably caught and have high enough populations that fishing won’t damage the species longterm. Seafood Watch has a website and app that you can download so you can check if your seafood is sustainable on the go.
We think of Great White Sharks and their relatives as being invincible giants of the ocean, but the truth of the matter is that they are now more vulnerable than ever to being wiped off the planet due to human interference. Luckily with a little bit of research and change in your life, you can make an impact and save sharks worldwide. It’s not easy to change your lifestyle. Sometimes it’s inconvenient, sometimes it hurts a little bit, but the sacrifice can be the difference between a species living or dying at our hands. What will you do to help save them?