An extremely unusual shark washed ashore recently in Australia’s Port Hacking, New South Wales, and expert analysis now suggests that the stark white fish is in fact a juvenile “albino” great white.
The shark was discovered by Luke Anslow, a local who happened upon it while walking on the beach, according to Earth Touch News. When Anslow first spied the shark, it was thrashing about in the surf before it became fatally stranded. Anslow didn’t want to approach the shark, but was able to take pictures of the animal and report its demise. Later collected by the New South Wales Department of Fisheries, the shark showed no obvious signs of injury, and it is unclear what caused it to become stranded.
— Oceana (@Oceana) January 23, 2016
Initially, it was also unclear what species the animal belonged to, due in large part to its unusual coloration. Early reports suggested that it could be an albino salmon, mako, or porbeagle shark. Closer examination ruled out these options, however, while also establishing that the shark was leucistic.
Often confused for true albinism, leucism is differentiated by its effect on the eyes. Were the shark to be a true albino, its eyes would look either red or purple, due to a complete lack of melanin throughout the body. Instead, they were the inky black that is commonly found in the species.
— Shark Advocates (@SharkAdvocates) January 22, 2016
Shark biologist Dr. Alison Kock noted that the animal couldn’t be a salmon shark, as that species is found exclusively in the Northern Hemisphere. This meant that it could only be a white shark pup, a juvenile mako, or a porbeagle shark. The structure of the shark’s snout was found to be too blunt for a mako, and it was Massachusetts Shark Research Program biologist John Chisholm who pointed out the final factor which identified the shark definitively as a great white.
Porbeagle sharks and young great whites are similar in appearance, yet the two species differ in several ways. One particular identifying feature is the shark’s caudal keel, a ridge which is found just forward of their tail fin. According to Chisholm, this structure represents an easy way to differentiate between the species.
“From the pictures I’ve seen online I’m confident it’s a white shark, but I understand the confusion. Juvenile white sharks are very similar in appearance to porbeagles. The easy way to tell the difference is the porbeagle has a secondary caudal keel and the white does not.”
— MA Sharks (@MA_Sharks) March 28, 2015
While the Port Hacking shark is one of the more interesting animals to appear in the region recently, it is hardly the only white shark to make its presence known. Last year, the continent saw 22 unprovoked shark attacks, according to the Australian Shark Attack File. Of that number, 14 transpired in New South Wales, leading to a single fatality.
— Sarah Keartes (@sarahkeartes) January 21, 2016
Earlier this month, an unusually large great white shark was spotted off the coast of South Australia, causing general alarm among beachgoers before it was shepherded out to sea by lifeguards. While the exact size of the animal wasn’t recorded, reports from those on the scene suggested that the shark could be in excess of 22-feet-long, as the Newcastle Herald noted. If those estimates were proven to be correct, they would make the animal one of the largest great white sharks ever reported.