Monday, September 12 in the morning, boaters found themselves face to face with a great white shark just a few kilometers from the coast, in the Camargue Regional Natural Park. A meeting “exceptional in its rarity” for the Scientific Manager of the Marseille Group for the Study of Sharks (GPER). What do we know about the observed specimen? How to explain the presence of this super-predator? Should we be worried about it? Nicolas Ziani’s answers.
Nicolas Ziani is a native of Montpellier. He is the co-founder of the Marseille Group for the Study of Sharks (GPER) in which he holds the position of Scientific Manager. On September 12, it was the members of this association, based in Marseille, who received images filmed by a group of fishermen, after their encounter with a great white shark.
In what way is this encounter with a great white shark, off Port-Saint-Louis-du-Rhône, exceptional?
It is exceptional in its rarity. It’s almost miraculous to come across a white shark. The last observation dates back to August 2012, near Saint-Tropez. To give you an idea, there are only about forty documented sightings since the Middle Ages in the Gulf of Lion!
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What do we know about the observed specimen?
It is a female of a little more than five meters (the maximum size can exceed six meters, Editor’s note) which belongs to the category of Mediterranean great white sharks. You should know that there are six distinct populations of great white sharks around the world: West Atlantic, in the northeast of the United States; Eastern Pacific, from California to Mexico; South Africa ; Australia; Japan and the Mediterranean.
On the animal observed in the Camargue, we identified love bites. These bites coupled with its weight, which must be between one and two tons, may suggest that the female could be pregnant.
In the Mediterranean, only 52 attacks have been recorded since the 15th century, 41 of which targeted a boat
How to explain its presence in this sector, a few kilometers from the coast?
If the shark is pregnant, it is likely that it was foraging when it encountered boaters. The Camargue natural park is a protected area, therefore extremely rich in fish. There are also known to be large communities of dolphins, other sharks and swordfish nearby, which are part of the diet of the great white shark. But he especially likes bluefin tuna. It so happened that on the day of the meeting, Ifremer reported a strong presence of juvenile tuna from the Aude to the mouth of the Rhône. The Gulf of Lion area is therefore clearly a reservoir of food.
Can the great white shark attack humans? Should we be worried?
Beware of the imagination around the white shark. We often speak, rightly, of a superpredator of the Mediterranean. This term should be understood as “the predator of predators”. In the food chain, it is he who is at the top.
But the animal observed in the Camargue crossed the boat almost by chance. He was underwater and he surfaced at the level of the boat, then quickly distanced himself. The white shark, however, remains a member of the infernal trio responsible for most of the attacks, along with the Bull shark and the Tiger shark. In the Mediterranean, only 52 attacks have been recorded since the 15th century, 41 of which targeted a boat but not a man.
The meeting lasted five minutes and then he went back to the bottom. No one was prepared for such an event.
How many great white sharks does the Mediterranean have?
This shark has been protected since the 1980s, but remains critically endangered. In 2018, it was estimated that 98% of the species was extinct in the Mediterranean. The figures for 2021 are better, and the number of adult specimens is estimated at 250 throughout the area.
Can we hope that observations will increase in the coming years?
The action taken to preserve natural areas may be bearing fruit. Thanks to the preserved areas, it has been possible to recreate the entire food chain from the underwater meadows to the largest fish. This observation may be a sign. Especially since at the same time, action has been taken in the Mediterranean to limit the risk of accidental capture of great white sharks by trawling.
Do we know where the great white shark observed on September 12 is now?
No way. And we can’t know. The meeting lasted five minutes and then he went back to the bottom. No one was prepared for such an event. And since it moves at an average of 4 km/h, with a top speed of 40 km/h…