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Great White Wonder

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As Director of the Aquarium Science Program with the Oregon Coast Community College, Chris Spaulding works with fish every day. But usually not anything as powerful and massive as a Great White Shark.

But in 2004, Chris did something most of us would never dream of… he put on SCUBA gear, climbed into a small underwater cage and observed these giant predators from just inches away. It was all part of a larger study on Great White Sharks – a species whose reputation often obscures scientific fact.

Although the study took place in False Bay, South Africa, Great White Sharks are an Oregon species and Chris said the diving conditions were very similar to those you’d find off the Oregon Coast. The cold, murky water and low visibility made for spine-tingling dives as scientists observed the behavior of the massive fish. One of the most curious habits displayed by the South African population was an explosive sneak attack on Fur Seals in which the sharks would launch themselves out of the water in a behavior known as “breaching.” This unique hunting style has not been recorded in any other Great White Shark and was the basis for the 2001 documentary AIR JAWS.

“It’s a surprise ambush attack, but in this case it’s by a one-ton animal attacking a Cape Fur Seal,” said Chris.

In order to better record and study the attacks, researchers towed a seal-shaped decoy around False Bay which prompted the Great White Shark to breach.

“The researchers were looking at whether these sharks were adapting to individual hunting strategies… or whether they were similar among the genetic pool or the larger shark population itself,” Chris explained.

“Sometimes [the attacks] resulted in an immediate meal for the Great White Sharks, sometimes it just stunned the seal but gave the shark time to come back and finish the job.”

Despite the obvious power and potential danger of Great White Shark, Chris is only filled with admiration for this threatened species.

“You get lost in the awe and you don’t really think about the movie JAWS or all the shark attack soundbites you hear from the media,” he recalled. “Sometimes sharks can misidentify a swimmer or a surfer and a bite occurs, but really Great White Shark have no interest in human beings as part of their menu.”

Learn more about Chris’s experience with sharks, including their incredible breaching behavior, by viewing the video.

Related Information: The Sharks of Oregon

Photo credit: Chris Spaulding.

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Great White Wonder

Join Chris Spaulding of the Oregon Coast Community College as he describes how he got up close and personal with Great White Sharks... and what he learned from the experience.

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