Great white shark could end up in Europe after swimming the wrong way

Great white shark could end up in Europe after swimming ‘the wrong way’

Nukumi, a 253-stone female, has become only second of its kind in known history to cross Atlantic

Chiara Giordano
Saturday 24 April 2021 00:29
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A great white shark could end up in Europe this summer after taking a wrong turn, scientists have said.

The 17ft female shark has become only the second in history to cross the Atlantic.

The 3,541lb (253 stone) female shark, named Nukumi, usually swims up and down the east coast of America and Canada.

But in an unusual move, the 50-year-old matriarch - the largest ever tagged in the region by scientists monitoring it - took a swerve east, across the Atlantic.

Migratory species like great white sharks rarely cross the Mid-Atlantic Ridge - a barrier in the middle of the ocean - but Nukumi did just that earlier this month.

And the shark has kept going, surfacing long enough for the tag in its dorsal fin to send a GPS location back to a team tracking its movement at science organisation OCEARCH.

The only other great white shark tracked making the crossing was Lydia, in April 2014, which surprised scientists with a journey to the coast of Portugal.

Nukumi’s two-month voyage has so far taken the shark to 1,700 nautical miles off British shores –and experts said it could “capable of reaching the UK coast”.

They believe the great white may be on the move because it is pregnant and looking for a place to give birth away from its aggressive male counterparts.

Nukumi the shark is shown being tagged in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, by OCEARCH in October 2020

OCEARCH's chief scientist Dr Bob Hueter said: “At this point in her track, Nukumi has crossed from the western Atlantic to the eastern Atlantic over the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, the dividing feature between west and east.

“She has been swimming eastward for about two months since she left the US coast off the state of North Carolina.

“As of her last known location, Nukumi was still about 1,700 nautical miles from the UK.

“Now, that is less than her distance from the US coast, so she is capable of reaching the UK coast.

“But we would not predict that she will do that, as white sharks are rare off the UK.

“If she does not turn back soon, she might go to offshore islands or seamounts in the eastern Atlantic, places like the Azores.

“Or perhaps she will head towards the opening into the Mediterranean Sea, as there are white sharks in the Med.

“But again, none of our other sharks have done that. All of this is speculation that awaits more tag locations.

“If she behaves like other sharks that have shown a similar pattern, she will make a turn and loop back into the western Atlantic.

Nukumi’s live tracking page, showing her progress across the Atlantic

“But we have only watched a few sharks do this, so we can't say for sure that Nukumi will follow the same migratory pattern until she gives us more locations from her satellite tag.”

Nukumi is the largest white shark tagged in the Northwest Atlantic by OCEARCH to date, and researchers believe it is over 50 years old judging by its large scars.

Tracking from non-profit OCEARCH, which attached a tag to the shark’s dorsal fin in Nova Scotia in October 2020, shows it travels on average 44 miles each day.

The sharks are given a position and temperature tag which uses satellites to send their location each time they reach the surface.

Nukumi left the North Carolina coast on 22 February and since being tagged has travelled about 5,570 miles.

The shark crossed the ridge around 5 April, and has “pinged” a number of times since.

Dr Hueter said one concern experts had was the fishing activity out in the areas Nukumi is travelling in, where huge fleets of longliners fish for other species.

He said the great white could tear through fishing gear, but that any interaction with hooks and lines could also pose “a severe risk to her survival”.

Additional reporting by SWNS

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