If you don’t like sharks, then steer clear of the oceanic expanse between the Guadalupe Islands and Hawaii. Dubbed the “White Shark Cafe” by marine biologists, this stretch of the mid-Pacific has long been the end point of one of the world’s most mysterious migrations. Since at least 2002, marine biologists have observed great white sharks gathering in this area en masse, but have been unable to explain why.
“The story of the white shark tells you that this area is vitally important,” said Salvador Jorgensen, a research scientist from the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
“They are telling us this incredible story about the mid-water, and there is this whole secret life that we need to know about,” he told SFGate.
Intrigued by the mystery of the White Shark Cafe, back in April Jorgensen led a group of researchers on an expedition to the region of the mid-Pacific where sharks gather annually.
According to Jorgensen, satellite imagery suggested that the remote area of ocean was unremarkable and barren, and would make poor hunting grounds for large predators. In comparison, sharks found congregating there were the same animals that spent much of the year patrolling North America’s food-rich western coastline.
To add to the mystery, tagged sharks were observed acting strangely in the void. Males were recorded taking deep plunges as often as 120 times a day. Females were also recorded acting unusually, spending unusual lengths of time deep below the surface.
“The male white shark and the female white shark are doing completely different things, and that’s not something we’ve seen so much before,” Stanford University marine biologist and expedition member Barbara Block told NPR.
Every year, sharks gather at the White Shark Café, a mysterious spot halfway between Mexico and Hawaii—no one knows why! Now a team of humans is tagging along. Stay tuned to see what our researchers and their partners learn on the #WhiteSharkVoyage with @SchmidtOcean. pic.twitter.com/roIqleSrXr— Monterey Bay Aquarium (@MontereyAq) April 24, 2018
Initially, researchers were baffled, and hypothesized that the behavior could be part of a bizarre mating ritual.
Now, scientists believe that they have the answer.
The expedition discovered that — deep below the surface — the void is heavily populated by a variety of light-sensitive animals, such as squid.
Speaking to NPR, researcher Bruce Robison said that this hot spot of oceanic life caught the expedition by surprise.
“We expected it to be the desert that the textbooks sort of advertised it would be,” he said.
Instead, Robison said that they found a complex, thriving ecosystem that had simply gone undetected for years.
“[It was] a complete food chain, a ladder of consumption, that made us believe that there was an adequate food supply out here for big animals like tunas and the sharks,” he said.
What lures #sharks to the #WhiteSharkCafe?— MBARI (@MBARI_News) September 17, 2018
After the #WhiteSharkVoyage, researchers think it might be the abundance of squid and small fish that migrate up and down in the midwater: https://t.co/VyLzdRAaQy @MontereyAq @HopkinsMarine @SchmidtOcean @noaaocean @sfchronicle pic.twitter.com/fmRbNNauKi
The discovery could mean that there are more unusual hot spots of life dotted across the ocean, and Robison suggested that areas like the White Shark Cafe should be protected to preserve their unique ecosystems.
The United Nations’ scientific and cultural agency, UNESCO, is currently considering declaring the White Shark Cafe a world heritage site.