Bleary-eyed humans flock to Starbucks and Tim Hortons when they need that next “hit” to keep them going; great white sharks dive to the remote Pacific. At least that’s what scientists are theorizing as the reason why so many sharks are frequenting a secret layer of the ocean now dubbed the White Shark Café: they can’t resist the newly discovered marine life snacks on the menu there.
Biologists realized a few years ago that great whites were breaking migration patterns and seeking out a specific stretch of Pacific Ocean each December, swarming a spot roughly twice the size of England located between Baja, Calif. and Hawaii. The area is one of the deepest, darkest spots in the ocean and was believed to be barren, but new research indicates it’s actually a hot zone that’s flowing with marine life.
Scientists from Stanford University and the Monterey Bay Aquarium teamed up to monitor great whites in order to understand why they spend a month each year migrating towards the café, and to uncover what it is they actually all do there. So they tagged animals with high-tech satellite monitoring devices and followed them out on a research vessel equipped with a remotely operated submarine and drones. As the sharks swam towards the café they made 3,000-feet dives, which surprised scientists since the fish usually can’t stay warm enough to digest food at that depth. Further research indicates they actually use warm circular currents to go lower, and warm currents is an indication the animals are following food sources.
Once researchers knew where to look, they discovered the white shark café is actually chockful of tantalizing shark “treats” like squid, bioluminescent lantern fish and other adaptable species that migrate up and down in what scientists call one of the largest animal migrations on Earth.
“The story of the white shark tells you that this area is vitally important in ways we never knew about,” Salvador Jorgensen, a research scientist for the Monterey Bay Aquarium and one of the expedition’s leaders told the San Francisco Chronicle. “They are telling us this incredible story about the mid-water, and there is this whole secret life that we need to know about.”
With more research into the life inhabiting this newly discovered hot zone, scientists are hopeful for more biomedical and environmental breakthroughs involving climate change and carbon dioxide emissions.
Meanwhile, the research is still out on whether the hypothesis—that great whites are indeed infiltrating the café for delicious snacks—is true. A less likely explanation is that the sharks are preying on other large marine animals (like bigeye-tuna or blue and mako sharks) that are also feeding in the area, but scientists say that’s not likely. They’re hoping to know more soon as the trackers surface, but the data they’ve uncovered so far is pretty promising in terms of understanding more about these feared predators.
“We now have a gold mine of data. We have doubled the current 20-year data set on white shark diving behaviours and environmental preferences in just three weeks,” researchers told the Chronicle. This “will help us better understand the persistence of this unique environment and why it attracts such large predators.”