Friday, 17 February 2012
Huge Great White caught in Morocco
It's not a great picture, I know, but this was sent to me by Debora Morrison at Palma Aquarium and was passed to her by a friend of hers in the Moroccan port of Kenitra.
Debora also sent the photo to Brad knowing that we both share a passion for Mediterranean Great White Sharks but, this is the Atlantic and Morocco is in Africa right? Well, yeah but hear me out...
This 4 metre plus female was caught last week by what looks like a Tuna fishing boat and its docking was witnessed by someone described as a "reliable source," and passed on to Debora's friend, a Guardia Civil with the Servicio Maritimo. The reason this capture is of particular interest is the time of the year, and the proximity to the passage between Africa and Spain, where the Atlantic meets the Mediterranean.
Xisco Perez's 2nd Great White, Mallorca 1976
The Mediterranean is known for numerous notable White Shark captures with Italy and Malta usually at the forefront of discussions on the subject but the Spanish coast, around the Balearics and the stretch of coast taking in the Ligurian Sea, around the South of France and Northern Italy have all contributed heavily to the Med's White Shark pedigree, albeit with less publicity.
I have long held a theory that the Mediterranean supports a small population of resident Great White Sharks, primarily based around the central Mediterranean and Adriatic but that it also sees a yearly influx of large, adult sharks, primarily females, from the Eastern Atlantic, which pass through the straits of Gibraltar, possibly to give birth or following particular prey items. There is scant information available about this Moroccan shark and myself, Brad and Gabriel Morey are trying to find out more, if we get it, you will of course be updated.
Sightings of large White Sharks off the cost of Eastern Spain, even captures and beachings, whilst not common place, still happen with enough regularity for it to be a geographical feature of significance. You might not hear about them, but they happen, several large Great Whites have been spotted off the coast of Barcelona and Valencia, captain's of cruise ships have told me directly that they see one or two Great White Sharks at the surface, every year, on the crossing from Ibiza to Nice, a friend of Brad's saw one from her yacht around September/October last year and Xisco Perez, the man who caught the last Great White on record in Mallorca (also the second largest White Shark ever caught) told me he had found a large Tuna floating at the surface with an enormous, characteristic bite taken from it, a bite he is certain came from a Great White and that would have been around September 2010.
A six metre plus Great White, Mallorca 1976
I believe that these Eastern Atlantic Great Whites pass through the Strait of Gibraltar in the winter, the majority of which bisect the stretch of water between Spain's east coast and Mallorca's west, making their way around the north eastern point of the island, before moving in to the region of the Ligurian Sea and down the coastline of Italy. Of course there have been captures and sightings in areas outside of this route but when looking at confirmed captures of Mediterranean Great Whites, the majority fall in to this locale.
Let's look at some facts surrounding the data I have from the Balearics. There have been twenty-seven confirmed captures of adult White Sharks between the 1920's and 1976. Their captures provide a major clue as to what these sharks were doing there as every single one was caught in nets designed to catch Bluefin Tuna. Of those captures, eleven ( 41%) were caught in the months January to March. Of the ten individuals which were gender confirmed, nine were females, none of the twenty-seven were less than three metres in length and eleven were confirmed or estimated to be larger than five metres. 79% of these Balearic Great Whites were caught off the North East coast and in 1969, three five metre long specimens were captured in the space of only five days, from the same place.
One of those 5 metre White Sharks from 1969
What has all this got to do with our Moroccan friend?
Could she have been on her way into the Med, maybe even to travel the route mentioned above, traversing southern Spain, Mallorca, France and Italy before making her way back out of the Strait of Gibraltar and into the Atlantic? Possibly. I for one would like to think so and hope she has friends luckier than her who manage to avoid the various man made hazards on the way to make it.
The surprising thing for me has always been that we don't actually see them more than we currently do. Ask any tourist about Great White Sharks off the coasts of Mallorca, Ibiza, Spain and France and most would recoil in horror but when speaking to fishermen in these areas, most will have a story to tell and the vast majority will barely flinch because for them, Great White Sharks are simply an occasional part of the scenery, usually destroying their nets and stealing their fish. Anybody who knows, who wants to see sharks, knows the first people to ask are fishermen as it is they who spend more time on the water than anyone. Ask any Mediterranean fishermen about Great White Sharks and they will almost certainly tell you their own story and that yes, they are still there and they are big.
There is precious little research into Mediterranean Great White Sharks and whether they spend all year in the Med or not but I would love to know more. The Mediterranean brings with it cultural politics in the different countries and it must be said that, for an area of the world where tourism is so vital, particularly with visitors from the UK, I dare say a good majority of people would certainly not want the subject of enormous Great White Sharks prowling just offshore to be discussed in public with any vigour.
However, we are coming up to Med White Shark season so if you're visiting, keep your eyes peeled and cameras ready because well, you never know...