At OCEARCH, we’re on a mission to solve the Global White Shark Puzzle
and return our world’s oceans to balance and abundance.

For over 400 million years one elusive creature has roamed our oceans striking fear and fascination into the hearts of people across our globe. The story behind why this apex predator has lived for lifetimes, and how we can learn from it has been our oceans’ deepest mystery. Fearless watermen have figured out a way to safely handle our ocean’s giants, and teamed up with expert scientists onboard the M/V OCEARCH ship to study them, braving the harshest conditions, exploring remote waters, and discovering vital data to replace Fear with Facts and solve the age old life history puzzle of our white sharks.

Our goal is to assist regional scientists and increase our understanding of the 9 recognized populations of white sharks around the world. This work, for the first time in history, will help outline the migratory patterns, critical habitat use, nursery and foraging sites, reproductive biology, and reveal potential threats to recovery, providing the critical data necessary to inform the conservation and fishery policies needed to protect sharks globally.


Over the past decade OCEARCH has studied the western North Atlantic white shark population, which inhabits the waters off the east coast of the United States, the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Canada. After sampling, tagging and releasing nearly 100 sharks in the region and providing samples and data for up to 25 collaborative research projects on every animal studied, OCEARCH has nearly solved the life history puzzle of this white shark population. Using two types of satellite tags and internal acoustic tags we’ve learned where these white sharks are going and when. Other samples collected at the time of tagging like blood, muscle and fin clips have allowed us to understand why they are there and about their health, exposure to environmental toxins, preferred prey and how this population is related to the 8 others around the globe. This historic data from the western North Atlantic now creates a baseline of learning for generations to come and demonstrates the success of a highly collaborative research model that will return our world’s oceans to balance and abundance.


White sharks are particularly threatened in the Mediterranean Sea where this species has been classified as Critically Endangered. With rapid population declines over the past 30 – 40 years, shark and ray species are particularly threatened with nearly ⅓ of these species fished close to the level of extinction. It is a signal of the overall declining health of this ecosystem and it’s crucial to help there now before it’s too late. Conservation measures to reduce overfishing, pollution, and habitat destruction are in need of critical life history data for sharks in the region. Filling these data gaps for the white shark in the Mediterranean will help other imperiled shark populations as well.
This summer OCEARCH is traveling over 4,000 miles this summer to explore European waters and study the Mediterranean white shark population. This will kick off a multi-year research project aimed at studying and protecting these critically endangered creatures and bringing the Mediterranean and surrounding waters back to balance and abundance. If we can save our sharks in the Mediterranean, we can save the Mediterranean.


The range of the Southern Africa population of white sharks extends from the west and east coast of South Africa to Mozambique and Madagascar. OCEARCH visited South Africa in 2012 and helped study nearly 50 white sharks which has allowed us to better understand their movement and habitat use, and contaminant burdens, specifically mercury. Though many of the tags on these sampled sharks have exceeded their battery life, this baseline data was critical in recognizing significant shifts in habitat use by white sharks due to the appearance of shark-eating Orcas in the western Cape in 2017. This project also set the stage for scientific collaborations that continue to this day.


The Western North Pacific white shark inhabits the waters surrounding Russia, the Republic of Korea, Japan, China, Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Malaysia. What little is known about this population comes largely from fisheries capture and confirmed sightings, with biological sampling of mortalities. Observational trends suggest the population had been stable to slightly declining since protections were put in place in the 1990’s, which is concerning as unlike the rest of the globe, there is currently a lack of protective measures for white sharks in this region.


The range of this population of white sharks extends from Tasmania to Southern Queensland and east to New Zealand. It experienced a greater than 90% population decline during the 20th century due to targeted fishing and mortalities associated with bather protection programs. Updated bather protection programs offered the opportunity for extensive non-lethal sampling of the population making it one of the most well studied around the globe. Though international and regional protections anticipate recovery of this population, historical catch data and genetic studies have found no evidence of population growth or recovery. Continued research on this population remains critical.


OCEARCH worked with researchers in this region in 2015 to study tiger sharks, successfully tagging 30 animals. Many of those researchers also study the white shark population in this region, which extends from western Victoria to northwestern Western Australia with some cross over in the ranges of the eastern population along their eastern margin. Similar to the Eastern population, recent genetics analysis found the population to be stable since protections were put in place in the 1990’s but there is no evidence of a population recovery. Additionally, this same analysis found the population to have a very small effective breeding population, with many of the animals sampled (60%) being full or half siblings. Continued tracking of the population and its threats will be critical to seeing if the population can recover.


The range of the white shark in the eastern North Pacific is large, extending from Alaska to Mexico and as far west as Hawaii. Core habitat for the population is the North American shelf water along the coast of California and Mexico, the waters surrounding the Hawaiian islands and a seasonal offshore foraging area halfway between these two locations, the white shark “Cafe” or “SOFA” (Shared Offshore Foraging Area). This is a well-researched population and estimated to be stable or increasing in size. This is the region where OCEARCH first studied white sharks and pioneered their research methods. From 2007 to 2010 OCEARCH studied over 40 animals in the eastern North Pacific, helping identify critical habitats for this population.


White sharks in this region were historically found along the coasts of Peru and Chile and are believed to have been heavily impacted by fishing pressures. There have been no recent sightings of white sharks in the region and little to nothing is known about the residual population. OCEARCH explored the Juan Fernandez Archipelago Islands off the coast of Chile in 2014. Although the team was able to study one mako and six blue sharks during this expedition, they found a disturbing absence of sharks. OCEARCH engaged local leaders to share data and encourage an urgent change in policy to protect the waters from illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing.


What is known of the South American Atlantic population of white sharks is primarily through occasional observations and fisheries captures along the coasts of Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina. More directed studies are needed in the South Atlantic to determine if these occurrences are rare or evidence of a more extensive population in the region. OCEARCH visited this region in 2014 and successfully studied six tiger sharks off the coast of Brazil alongside regional researchers.

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