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Great white shark vs. giant squid?

Marine ecologist Michael Domeier of the Marine Conservation Science Institute in Fallbrook, CA has found a possible link between great white sharks and squid, part of a radical change in scientific thinking that began eight years ago, when scientists learned that great white sharks (1) MIGRATE! Domeier believes that the animals “are not a coastal species that comes out to the middle of the ocean. They are an ocean shark that comes to the coast.” Although the “squid part” is controversial, Domeier’s research and that of other scientists suggest that great white sharks are not randomly roving, eating machines. Rather, they obey set migration patterns, have distinct populations, and return to the same locales.

Domeier and his team caught 22 great white sharks off Mexico’s Guadalupe Island, 250 miles southwest of San Diego, CA, over three years and applied pop-up satellite tags to them.  The area was the site of an earlier eight-year study by Domeier’s group, in which 56 great white sharks were tagged with pop-up satellite tags on their dorsal fins, around Guadalupe Island. Like the Farallon Islands (the islands have a Web cam!) northwest of the Golden Gate, the area is a hotspot for great white sharks.

The earlier study showed that:

“Guadalupe’s sharks migrate — beginning as early as Dec. 21 but spread over a 19-week period — to a vast pelagic habitat in the mid-Pacific, where they spend an average of 140 days, diving, at times, to 3,000 feet in an apparent search for food.

They then swim back to Guadalupe. The males arrive beginning about July 22, coinciding with the pupping of Guadalupe fur seals. The females arrive several weeks later.

More interesting is that white sharks from Northern California migrate to the same offshore area — some from both groups even travel as far west as Hawaii — but there is no known intermixing. No tagged shark from Northern California has ever visited Guadalupe, and vice versa.

Whereas the Northern California study, carried out by Stanford University’s Hopkins Marine Station, referred to the area as the White Shark Cafe, Domeier and co-author Nicole Nasby-Lucas label it the Shared Offshore Foraging Area, or SOFA.

But precisely why the apex predators visit the cafe or SOFA remains a mystery.

Domeier suggests it’s to hunt rather than reproduce, based on diving patterns, the fact that tagged sharks were widely dispersed at the SOFA, and that they do not return to the island noticeably thin.”

In the more recent study, funded by Newport Beach‘s George T. Pfleger Foundation and others, Domeier arranged a voyage with a National Geographic Channel television crew to follow the 22 tagged sharks in a 126-foot boat. The team tracked the sharks for 1,600 miles to an area of the deep Pacific that is around 1,500 miles east of Kauai. The area is considered to be an ecological desert, because it is so biologically unproductive.

The sharks ended their migration in the area and started milling about and diving! Team members had found hardly any fish or other prey that the sharks might be eating, with the exception of squid! Purple and neon flying squid were easy to find. The crew also found a partially eaten carcass of a giant squid. There were also leaping sperm whales, which are known to feed in spawning areas for large squid. Domeier speculates that the sharks had found a squid-based ecosystem with large enough prey to attract sperm whales. The great white sharks could prey upon large squid, including the giant squid, and any predators that the squid attract.

Since scientists are skeptical folks, :-) and also human beings, and since it is very unlikely that people will actually observe great white sharks preying on giant squid at depths of thousands of feet, Domeier’s findings have set off a healthy scientific debate. People who don’t know scientists very well and hear criticisms of virtually ALL scientific theories, :-) can draw the wrong conclusions. Scientific debate (and publicity) is GOOD, and it can also attract GRANT MONEY! :-) The competition for grant money (and a general aggressiveness and egomania of certain personality types) can generate FIERCE scientific debate! :-)

Education of the public is also good, especially when the education is based upon the results of scientific research, rather than propaganda cranked out by corporate marketing departments. Such education may give the public an understanding of how LITTLE human beings know about the ecosystems that they are rapidly destroying (or about anything ELSE, for that matter).

-Bill at

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