Great White Shark High-Five? Here Is What Really Happened

by Jeanna Bryner, Live Science /  / Updated 

Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.

One of the biggest great white sharks ever recorded has sent waves across the Internet not just for her plus size, but for what seemed to be a high five with a dive master hanging out in a shark cage.

Since the toothy gal, of course, was not privy to humans' celebratory hand gesture, what was she doing with her fin? Turns out, Joel Ibarra, the dive master of an ecotourism boat, was trying to keep the 22-foot-long great white shark, nicknamed Deep Blue, from harm.

"The dive master was pushing the shark away — it has a big laceration on the right side," said shark researcher Mauricio Hoyos Padilla, director of Pelagios-Kakunjá A.C., a nonprofit organization that focuses on sharks and other open-water species. "It was really close to the cage, and they have pointy ends. It is so big it couldn't turn properly. So he was trying to push her away, because he didn't want her to get hurt," Hoyos Padilla told Live Science.

How did Hoyos Padilla come upon the giant shark? He has been studying sharks off Guadalupe Island, off the coast of Mexico, for about 13 years. The island is known as a great white shark breeding ground in the Pacific Ocean.

Hoyos Padilla had a new hypothesis that the pregnant females would wait for elephant seals to arrive in the waters there in November and December, so the sharks could ambush the seals for sustenance. He found the female sharks could ambush the seals at a depth of 330 feet.

For his study he needed to observe pregnant female sharks, so he asked operators of ecotourism boats in the area to keep an eye out and contact him if they spotted one. Sure enough, a friend and dive master contacted him with Deep Blue's whereabouts.

During the outing, Hoyos Padilla and his team, including scientists from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, garnered amazing footage of Deep Blue for one of the Discovery Channel's "Shark Week" shows last year. Once they encountered Deep Blue, the scientists tagged her with a transponder that emitted acoustic signals.

An autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) equipped with several cameras picked up those signals and followed the shark to record her movements and other data. That day, the AUV followed Deep Blue for more than 3 hours, Hoyos Padilla said.

The shark's expanded belly was a telltale sign she was pregnant. And she was big. Hoyos Padilla's boat is about 22 feet long, and Deep Blue looked longer than the boat, he said. Her size indicates she is likely more than 50 years old, he said.

This is a condensed version of an article that appeared on Live Science. Read the original story here. Follow Jeanna Bryner on Twitter and Google+. Follow us @livescience, Facebook & Google+.

MORE FROM LIVE SCIENCE

Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.
MORE FROM news