Rare sighting of great white shark reported off Alabama coast

Published 1:57 pm Wednesday, May 8, 2024

Alabama researchers say they found a rare great white shark off the coast of Alabama last month. They named her Miss Pawla.

Researchers from the University of South Alabama captured video of the juvenile female shark, approximately 8 feet in length, while monitoring fish movement near the state’s artificial reef zone. The first sighting was captured in mid-April with underwater cameras during a survey along with researchers from Mississippi State University and Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute. Ten days later she was still roaming the same site, but this past Friday she was gone.

White sharks can live more than 50 years. Based on her size, the female in the video is somewhere around 15 years old. She won’t reach maturity until she’s at least 30 years old.

In the U.S., white sharks are increasingly common in the cooler waters off New England and California. White sharks have been reported from other areas of the Gulf of Mexico, usually in deeper, cooler waters. Their occurrence off the Alabama coast is rare, according to Dr. Sean Powers, Director of USA’s Stokes School of Marine and Environmental Sciences. This shark was spotted in approximately 150 feet of water where the reef was located and is the first known sighting in that area recorded by scientists.

Recent reports of a white shark seen by divers in coastal Alabama – one caught by fishermen, and another washed up dead on a Florida Panhandle beach – suggest that the species may be more common in the northern Gulf of Mexico than originally thought.

“We have surveyed over 1,000 artificial and natural reef areas over the last 10 years, providing scientific data to assist the State of Alabama in managing its offshore fisheries,” said Powers. “This is our first documented sighting of a white shark.”

White sharks can be identified by their unique scarring pattern on their body particularly their head and fins, and usually named so scientists can track their movements. This juvenile has never been recorded before, so she was named after one of South’s mascots, Miss Pawla. The University’s other mascot, SouthPaw, already inspired the naming of a 12-foot tiger shark, SouthJaw, and that shark carries a satellite tracker. He can be tracked on the Ocearch.org website.

Alabama has a rich marine ecosystem, and sharks are an important element. Anglers are reminded that white sharks are a federally prohibited species and must be released alive if caught. Funding for the surveys was provided by the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium and Alabama’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Division of Marine Resources.