Beachgoers in Australia fled the waves this past weekend after a massive great white shark was spotted just off the coast, and with an estimated length of seven meters, the predator may qualify as one of the world’s largest sharks.
The shark in question was sighted by a helicopter just 100 meters from the Marino Rocks along the coast of Adelaide, according to the Independent. Though nearby swimmers were called from the water, the Westpac helicopter was able to successfully herd the leviathan out to sea, where it eventually disappeared into the deep.
— The Independent (@Independent) January 18, 2016
An unidentified member of the helicopter crew was able to take several photographs of the unusually large shark before it vanished, sharing them with Shark Alerts South Australia on Facebook. He noted that while the shark’s image was captured for posterity, the photographs hardly convey the animal’s true size.
“It’s the biggest [I’ve] ever seen as a crew member in the Westpac chopper, we put it down as 7m the photo really doesn’t do it justice.”
— LabRoots (@LabRoots) January 20, 2016
A stunningly large specimen, initial estimates put the shark’s length at 23 feet, well beyond the size of the largest verified members of the species. In order to make that determination, the Westpac crew reportedly used a six-meter-long jet boat for comparison, finding the shark to be larger, according to Shark Alerts South Australia.
If the shark in question is in fact as large as the helicopter crew estimated it to be, it would be one of the biggest great whites ever recorded. As IFLScience points out, there are some unverified historical records of great white sharks growing to be over 30 feet long, but those are likely to be greatly exaggerated, as no modern analogue has ever been found.
The largest great white sharks ever to be accurately documented have been found to be between 21 and 22 feet long. It is unclear which particular shark holds the distinction of being the biggest, yet a great white of this size was caught at Seven Star Lake (Qixingtan), Hualien County, Taiwan, in 1997. Another shark of similar size was caught off the coast of Australia in 1985 by angler Vic Hislop, measuring 21 feet, eight inches. Last year, video of a 20-foot-long shark, Deep Blue, circulated online, leading to speculation that the animal could be the largest great white in the world.
Great white sharks of exceptional size are no strangers to Australian waters, as Hislop’s catch proves. Last January (almost a year to the day), another unusually large white shark made its presence known off Newcastle. Along with several other sharks, the great white was responsible for the closure of area beaches, which remained shuttered for over a week. As the Inquisitr reported at the time, local lifeguards said that the great white shark was “of a size that has not been seen before.”
Last year, Australia recorded 22 unprovoked shark attacks continent-wide, only one of which resulted in a fatality. Of that number, 14 took place in New South Wales, according to the Australian Shark Attack File, and the relative density of incidents in that state has led to calls for action from some residents, particularly in harder-hit areas like Ballina. Several shark management programs have been proposed or implemented, centering on the use of drones and, more controversially, baited drumlines.
A spokeswoman for Surf Life Saving South Australia noted that a nearby junior surf lifesaving carnival was called off early due to the white shark’s presence, while jet boats and inflatable rescue boats from the event were diverted to investigate the animal. By the time they arrived, however, Adelaide’s great white shark had slipped out to sea, “moving fairly quickly into deeper water.”