The white shark is among the most iconic predators in the ocean. But for all their public exposure, the lives of white sharks remain shrouded in mystery. Their remarkable migrations and behaviors have come to light in the past decade, through the use of biologging tags. These sophisticated tags – think “wearables” for sharks – allow scientists to see beyond surface encounters or the brief interactions divers and fishermen have with white sharks. The tags allow researchers to follow the sharks as they journey, traveling thousands of miles into the open ocean, then returning each year to their coastal feeding grounds.
Principal Investigator Dr. Barbara Block and her team at Stanford University’s Hopkins Marine Station have been using electronic tags to track shark migrations for years. She and her colleagues from the Monterey Bay Aquarium have found that a large number of white sharks that forage each fall in the waters off California migrate annually to an open ocean region halfway between Hawaii and Baja. Fattened on a rich diet of seals and sea lions in the National Marine Sanctuaries along the central California coast, adult white sharks in winter and spring congregate in a patch of open ocean roughly the size of Colorado, known as the White Shark Café. Little is known about this remote sub-tropical environment and the behavior of sharks that convene there. Why would these large predators choose to leave the eastern Pacific’s coastal cornucopia for this remote oceanic desert?