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It’s Official: A Massive Shark (Probably) Ate The Missing Great White

Four months after filmmaker Dave Riggs and a research team tagged a 9-foot (3-meter) female great white shark off Australia’s coast, the animal vanished. The tracking tag turned up— it recorded the animal’s position, depth in the water, and the ambient water temperature as if nothing had happened. Riggs found it two and a half miles from where the large female was first tagged, but without the shark attached. What happened to her? According to a recent documentary that premiered on the Smithsonian Channel last week, she was eaten.

The female great white disappeared in 2003, and in the intervening 11 years researchers have been speculating as to what could have eaten such a large ocean predator. The smoking gun evidence of predation was a peculiar temperature change that the tag recorded all those years ago. Data from the large female initially looked normal, with the shark descending and the tag recording the surrounding water temperature. Then, at around 2,000 feet (610 meters) below the surface, the recorded temperature increased dramatically from 46°F to 78°F (7°C to 25°C). A temperature at that depth could only come from the tag being inside another animal, an animal big enough to kill and eat a 9-foot great white shark.

Super Predator GIFThe position and temperature change for the disappeared great white.

In the Smithsonian documentary that aired on June 25th, Riggs and a team of researchers concluded that it was probably another great white that devoured their tagged female. “The internal temperature of the animal that ate the shark is a weird one. It appears to be too low for a killer whale and too high for another shark, unless it was massive,” Riggs explained. If it was another great white, Riggs speculates, it would have to be huge.

To be clear, the researchers don’t know for sure what caused the huge temperature shift their tag recorded, and an unusually massive great white is only one possible answer, not necessarily the correct one. Some researchers think it is more likely that an orca—orcas are known to kill and eat great whites—ingested chilled seawater along with the tag to produce the data that astounded Riggs. Additionally, cannibalism is common among great whites, but that predation most often occurs before birth in a shark-eat-shark womb war zone. Even so, as the majority of great white sharks recorded have been much larger than the disappeared female, the simplest answer could be a great white attack. The mystery of the vanished great white is still informed speculation at this point.

“The big shark scenario is the theory that is most widely accepted although I’ve noticed a lot of other creatures being suggested online–I don’t think that Godzilla is a possibility though!”

You can watch the viral teaser for the documentary below:

Kyle Hill is the Science Editor of Nerdist Industries. Follow the continued geekery on Twitter @Sci_Phile.

IMAGE: White shark by Pterantula

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  1. Kevin says:

    The Shark doesn’t have to have been eaten, Just the Tag. It’s just attached to the Dorsal Fin. 

    • TroubleHelix says:

      Yes! Thank you! This logic sounds like one of those aliens in history shows

  2. Giant Sharkeating Dinosaur says:

    I love the reactions I’m reading here. Because there absolutely could NOT possibly be ANYTHING bigger than a 9 foot Great White Shark that could potentially eat it, right?  Like a 20 – 25 foot Great White?  Or a Sperm Whale?  Or Orca?  Or Colossal Squid?  Or an animal we aren’t aware of because we know more about the moon than we do about the ocean?  

    Not to mention, the tracker tag, when it was found, showed evidence of bleaching and degradation consistent with being inside the digestive tract of a living animal.  

    Yeah…people who outright deny that the shark got eaten sound far more ridiculous than those claiming it was eaten by Megalodon by far.  Take off the narrow, dark glasses you see this world through and open up that underused brain.  There are things out there we don’t know about.  Doesn’t mean they don’t exist.  And frankly if it was a larger great white (20+ ft), that is not at all impossible…Great Whites over 20 feet are recorded all the time. 

  3. If you ever needed proof that the Megaladon is still out there…

  4. Nate says:


  5. Megatron says:

    Cthulhu is my bet…

  6. Cupcake says:

    Perhaps it was a jaguar shark.

  7. Beau Rosser says:

    It was probably a killer whale. They said the tag went up and down for a few days before being released. Could the whale have been going up and down for air, then released the chip at the surface? Seems likely.

  8. jm5150 says:

    wouldnt it make more sense the tag fell off? the temp readings could be an error from whatever caused it to come off. thats highly more probable than JAWS eating a 9 foot shark. and if it DID eat it and the tracker was INSIDE the shark, how would it pass so quickly and easily. a sharks metabolism is slow. it would poop it out that quick. I just can fathom the probability solely based on a temperature reading that could easily be wrong. it simply could have even floated through shark pee, or over an underwater vent.

    • Liz says:

      That’s the FIRST thing I thought.  It fell off or was bitten off by a smaller animal that didn’t want it, or carried it a little deeper and THAT fish was eaten. . . .

    • Kyle Hill says:

      Well, keep in mind that since all the other data from the tag seemed to make sense, it’s unlikely that a real, sustained temp. change is out of the question. Also, the tag was recovered months after the shark was first tagged, and the tag did spend quite a while at that odd temp. before being expelled to the surface, as you said. The other explanations for the temp. readings are a bit more unlikely I think, given that these were sustained readings that lasted not for seconds or minutes but for days.

  9. Samantha says:

    Shark-Eat-Shark Womb War Zone: coming to Syfy this fall.