Since its inception, OCEARCH, an organization that tags and tracks great white sharks and other shark species to promote research and conservation, has tagged more than 400 apex predators through 43 expeditions. The fearless crew of 200 scientists spends their days traveling the world, scouring the ocean in search of the water’s most fearsome creatures.
Through their countless hours at sea, the OCEARCH crew has seen countless fascinating marine animals. Even their vast well of shared knowledge and experience, however, could never have prepared them for what they would find on a 2020 expedition.
It started as a normal, albeit fruitful, trip, with the crew capturing and tagging five great white sharks in just three days. Then, on the fourth day of the expedition off the coast of Nova Scotia, the crew bore witness to the unbelievable. After spotting a mammoth great white shark at sea, the marine biologists successfully captured and hauled her onto the ship.
Weighing more than 3,500 pounds and spanning an astounding 17 feet long (two feet longer than the average great white female), the researchers dubbed her Nukumi, or “Queen of the Ocean.”
Marveling at the titanic great white, researchers were ecstatic at the prospect of the data the shark would provide. Outfitting Nukumi with a tag, they planned to study her until at least 2025. Just two years later, however, the Queen broke free of the scientists’ watchful eyes, disappearing into the depths of the Atlantic.
“We don’t know [what happened to Nukumi],” OCEARCH CEO Chris Fischer admitted to Daily Star. “Something happened and [her tags] were damaged or malfunctioned while she was way offshore in the middle of the Atlantic. We believe she is okay because we received some faint signals from her tag sometime later, but it’s uncertain.”
Researchers Hope Mammoth Great White Shark is Alive and Well
While admiring the great white shark’s expanse of grey skin, researchers noted that their Queen was severely battle-scarred. Likely 50 years old, Nukumi was clearly a formidable opponent. “When you look at all the healed-over scars on her skin, you’re really looking at the story of her life. And it makes you feel really insignificant,” Fischer explained in a Facebook post.
Nukumi’s name comes from Native American lore. The grandmother of the sea was named after a legendary grandmother figure of the Mi’kmaq people of Nova Scotia.
Great white sharks can live up to 70 years. As such, scientists believe Nukumi truly is a grandmother, likely giving birth to her first litter 30 years ago. “She would be a proper, true matriarch of the ocean, a grandmother of sharks,” Fischer said.
Given her long, successful life, the OCEARCH team remains hopeful that Nukumi is alive and well. “Unfortunately, we have not received any further data from her SPOT tag since ,” explained Bob Hueter, OCEARCH’s chief scientist. “Probably due to a tag failure or compromise.”
“But in mid-May 2021, her pop-up satellite archival tag (PSAT) [used to detect the movement of large marine animals] detached from her and began transmitting about 425 nautical miles east of Newfoundland,” he continued. “The data we received from that tag showed that Nukumi was alive and behaving normally at that point.”