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Great White Makes Marathon Swim

Great white sharks were once known as the terrors of the sea. But in recent years the market for the fins, jaws and meat of these sharks has exploded. As a result, in some parts of the world, it's now illegal to kill great white sharks.

Proposals to institute worldwide protections for these sharks have been opposed by fishermen who argue that great whites rarely stray from coastal feeding territories. But a new study in the journal Science finds that great whites move farther and faster than many had thought possible.

Ramon Bonfil, a marine biologist with the Wildlife Conservation Society and co-author of the study, tagged 30 sharks near the coast of South Africa. The probes recorded thousands of measurements a day, monitoring water temperature, changes in direction, depth, speed and light.

Some of the tagged sharks, as expected, stayed near established feeding grounds. Others, less expectedly, swam back and forth through thousands of miles of African coastal waters. But one shark, identified as P12, did something seemingly impossible -- it swam to Australia and back, covering 12,400 miles in less than nine months.

The shark's journey puts a snag in the theory that great whites stick close to established feeding grounds and bolsters claims that the animals need more than piece-meal protections. The sharks are protected near their feeding grounds in Australia and South Africa, but not in the open ocean where it appears some do travel.

The new study has already had an impact. Several months ago, P12's marathon was reported to delegates at the U.N. Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. The group formally declared the great white shark a threatened species and is now closely monitoring the shark trade.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

John Nielsen
John Nielsen covers environmental issues for NPR. His reports air regularly on NPR's award-winning news magazines, All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition. He also prepares documentaries for the NPR/National Geographic Radio Expeditions series, which is heard regularly on Morning Edition. Nielsen also occasionally serves as the substitute host for several NPR News programs.