The great white is a species of large mackerel shark renowned for its daunting size, with some growing up to 20 feet in length – but most are much smaller. The earliest known fossils of the great white shark are about 16 million years old, meaning they date back to the mid-Miocene epoch, and researchers argue its origins could be linked to the fall of the Megalodon some four million years ago. But scientists still know very little about the elusive creatures, and they are keen to understand more about how they have changed over the years.
One discovery is helping shed some light on the history of the great white after scientists found evidence of a prehistoric great white shark nursery in the Coquimbo region of northern Chile.
According to a paper published in Scientific Reports, these sharks lived between 2.5 to five million years ago, during the Pliocene Epoch.
The team studied great white shark teeth from three locations in South America and realised that most of the teeth from the Coquimbo site were from youngsters.
Study co-author Jurgen Kriwet said: “We were quite surprised to find such high numbers of juvenile white shark teeth in the area.”
The high concentration of young teeth discovered in one area suggests that great white sharks used nurseries to raise their pups for millions of years.
But that was not the only exciting find.
Douglas McCauley, an ecologist at the University of California Santa Barbara added in June: “One thing that is interesting is that this study suggests great white sharks may have been a lot more common in the past off the Pacific coast of South America than they are today.
“The fossil records they report on appear to paint a picture of Peru and Chile a million years ago that hosted thriving nurseries full of baby white sharks and buffet zones teeming with adults.
California’s underwater kelp forests have been almost diminished following an explosion in urchins that eat the kelp, and that is due to a decline in sea otters that eat the urchins.
This is threatening the natural food chain of the area, which could completely collapse if great whites have no source of prey.
Bryan Franks, a Jacksonville University doctoral professor said in 2019: “I can say with certainty you would lose stability, but there are so many factors involved it’s difficult to predict.
“Their prey would go up, then that third-level species would be depleted, but it’s difficult to model.
“The classic example is the otters, the urchins and the kelp.”