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Great white shark study reveals seasonal migration pattern, identity problems

By Catherine Cruz
Published On: Apr 18 2013 05:27:34 PM HST
Updated On: Apr 19 2013 08:37:40 AM HST

Shark experts at the University of Hawaii and the State Land and Natural Resources just published a new report that looked at great white shark sightings over the last 80 years. They discovered there were clearly cases of mistaken identity.

HONOLULU -

A new study published in the Journal of Marine Biology looked at white shark sightings in the Hawaiian Islands dating back to 1926.

It was a collaboration between the University of Hawaii’s Kevin Weng and the Department of Natural Resources’ Randy Honebrink.

The report revealed new seasonal migration patterns and problems with mistaken identity.  

About a year ago, a video clip of a shark off Kaena Point went viral.

It was an amazing chance encounter with a great white.

It was also wrong.  It wasn’t a great white.  It was a not-as-scary, not-as-harmful mako shark.

"Short-finned makos are easy to confuse with white sharks. That particular sighting around the world, but when it was reviewed by experts it was determined to be a short-finned mako shark," said Kevin Weng, head of the Pelagic Fisheries Research Program.

There are subtle differences like serrated versus smooth teeth -- things you might not take notice of when your adrenalin is pumping.

But, to the trained eye, it is what it is.

There have been reported sightings around Oahu, like off Lanikai where there was a fatality in 1958.

And there are shots taken off Haleiwa by adventurer Jimmy Hall.

It's proof positive the whites are out there and probably not just visiting Oahu.

"If they can swim all the way from the North American continent, they can swim from Oahu to Maui to the Big Island," Weng said.

For some reason scientists don't really understand, there are more sightings of great whites in Hawaiian waters in the spring.

Scientists have a good network, using satellite tracking devices embedded into sharks coming from coasts of California and Mexico where the feast on seals during the fall.

And there are all sorts of theories about shark gestation that may bring those females into warmer Hawaiian waters.  But, that said, it is a little puzzling that there are also sightings just about every month of the year.

"But maybe it suggests there is something else going on that isn’t explained by our satellite-tracking studies.  Maybe, are there white sharks coming to Hawaii from other places that we have not studied yet?" said Weng.

Places in Asia, like China and Japan, according to Weng.  It only goes to show how little we know.

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