Is This the Biggest Great White Shark Ever Seen, and Did It Just High-Five a Diver?

Some ecotourists off Mexico’s Guadalupe Island had a cruise they’ll never forget.
Jun 13, 2015·
Taylor Hill is an associate editor at TakePart covering environment and wildlife.

The great white shark that fills the screen in this YouTube video could very well be the largest ever recorded.

But that’s not even the most amazing part. Just seconds into the video, a diver seems to reach out from behind the safety of a dive cage and give a high-five to the lumbering, pregnant animal.

That strikes us as just about the worst idea ever—but in this case it was for the shark’s own good.

Dive master Joel Ibarra was working on ecotourism cruise off Guadalupe Island, Mexico, when the group encountered the behemoth shark, estimated to be 22 feet long.

Shark researcher Mauricio Hoyos Padilla—who was on the expedition with Ibarra—told Live Science the shark already had a laceration along its side, and Ibarra was trying to keep the animal from the sharp edges of the dive cage.

“He didn’t want her to get hurt,” Hoyos Padilla said.

Padilla and the team at nonprofit Pelagios Kakunjá has been studying sharks off Guadalupe Island alongside scientists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Massachusetts. The island is known as a breeding ground for great whites, and the team is researching whether females target elephant seals to sustain themselves and their unborn pups during pregnancy.

They have found that sharks will dive more than 330 feet deep to ambush an elephant seal.

Milton Love, a research biologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara’s Marine Research Institute, said it’s tough to determine whether this particular great white shark is the largest ever recorded.

“It’s a substantial white shark female, for sure,” said Love, who wrote the book on Pacific Ocean fish species. “Whether it is the biggest on record? Who knows? Measuring very large fishes—particularly in the past when folks often just made estimates—has always been kind of a tricky business.”

Aside from its size, Love was interested in the large laceration on the shark’s side. He said that many female pelagic shark species like blue, mako, and great white sharks often have scarring on their back and head regions from males biting them to hold them in place during mating.

“The scars that I saw on this one were a bit further back than would be expected from mating,” Love said. “But who knows, maybe there is a kinky male out there at Guadalupe.”