Great White Sharks Are About to Start Mating Off the Carolina Coasts

Great white sharks are about to start mating off the coasts North and South Carolina—and scientists are poised to investigate.

The mating habits of the great white shark remain largely a mystery; scientists know very little about how and where they mate, and where they raise their young.

Researchers know that a population of great white sharks in the Northwest Atlantic migrate through the Carolina waters along the U.S. East Coast on their migration south for winter.

But evidence now suggests the region is more important to the species' life cycle than previously thought.

A study by Ocearch—an organization that tracks the species with GPS satellite tags to learn more about their behavior—shows that young great white sharks may live along the Carolina coasts, in the Northwest Atlantic Ocean, during winter.

Researchers followed nine tagged individuals over two years. The tracks showed that during two consecutive years, great white shark pups returned to the Carolina waters.

This tentatively shows the existence of a great white shark nursery in the area, the research paper says. Shark nurseries are normally found in shallow seas or protected bays, where pups are protected away from predators until they can survive on their own.

For an area to be confirmed as a great white shark nursery, there must be proof that young white sharks occur there more frequently than in other areas, they must remain in the area for an extended period of time, and they must use the same area repeatedly across years. This research meets all three criteria.

Great white
A stock photo shows a young great white shark. The mating habits of the shark largely remain a mystery. demarfa/Getty Images

It also gives further evidence of how important the Carolinas are to this population of great white sharks. The research follows suspicions from Ocearch that great whites mate there in the early spring months.

Great white shark mating has never been fully documented. How and where they do it is largely a mystery. In September 2020, a fisherman said he had seen it happening off the coast of New Zealand. In an interview with the Guardian, Dick Ledgerwood said he saw two great whites "revolving round and round, very, very slowly."

Ocearch scientists hope to find out if great white sharks mate off the coasts of North and South Carolina during an expedition to the region in March. Bob Hueter, chief scientist with Ocearch, previously told Newsweek, they do not expect to catch them in the act, but if they find large numbers of sharks congregating in the area, this would confirm their hypothesis.

Hueter said mating probably takes place "a bit offshore."

"Not that right up against the coast because if that were the case, they would have been caught doing it. They're just too big to get away with that year after year," he said.

Hueter said finding where these great whites mate would be the "last piece of the puzzle" as then, researchers would have their lives tracked.

After mating season, male sharks go back to roaming the coasts looking for food, while the females move offshore, before returning to the nurseries to give birth.