Great white sharks are pretty darn big. Yet for all their bulk, these fish are surprisingly hard to track down. Much of their lives—especially their sex lives—remain a mystery to us. That may soon change, as researchers say they have a lead on where many great white sharks may be converging to mate and bear their young: in the waters off Long Island.
If true, that’s a pretty big deal for conservation biologists. For all the media frenzy around shark attacks, the reality is that these animals are pretty rare and becoming rarer by the minute.
Chris Fischer is the expedition leader of marine science organization OCEARCH. “We lose 200,000 sharks a day, about 100 million a year,” he told the Observer. This is hardly inconsequential. After all, it’s not like sharks are decorative; as apex predators, they’re crucial to the health of marine ecosystems.
“Sharks are the balance keepers of our oceans,” Fischer said. “If we lose our sharks, there won’t be enough fish to eat and we will lose our oceans, and thus the planet.”
So he and the OCEARCH team are doing everything in their power to change that, from both the human and shark side. On Twitter, great whites Mary Lee and Katharine are spreading awareness and excitement with every tweet. And in the water, researchers are learning everything they can about these creatures as fast as they can.
That includes trying to figure out where great whites are going. The sharks’ migration patterns, like their mating habits, remain something of a puzzle. (“There’s no frickin’ pattern at all,” shark scientist Greg Skomal told WIRED in 2013.)
This is where Mary Lee and Katharine can help. They and three other tagged sharks have been transmitting location information to OCEARCH for a few years now, and at least one pattern has emerged: These massive travelers seem to heart New York.
“We’ve tagged five great whites on the east coast of the U.S.,” Fischer said, “and based on some of their migratory patterns, we suspect Long Island, New York may be a birthing site.”
So, good news for you, New York: Your wildlife is even cooler than you thought. But if OCEARCH is right about a Long Island shark nursery, it may also be in more need of protection. “The data coming from these sharks will help us understand the ecosystem off NY and manage the area toward a balanced abundant future,” Fischer said.
Want to pitch in? Check out OCEARCH’s research Kickstarter page.