Great white shark: why is Nukumi the shark heading for the UK - and how common are sightings in Europe?

Nukumi is the biggest great white shark ever tracked in the region by scientists – and the second ever to make the Atlantic crossing.

A 17ft female shark could end up in European waters in summer 2021 after taking a wrong turn, scientists have said.

Scientists observing the female shark, named Nukumi, say she has become the second ever great white shark to make a journey across the Atlantic Ocean.

Why is the shark heading for Europe?

The great white is around two months into her unusual journey.The great white is around two months into her unusual journey.
The great white is around two months into her unusual journey.

Nukumi usually swims around the east coast of Canada and America, and is the largest great white ever tagged in the region - weighing a whopping 3,541lb (253 stone).

The 50-year-old shark swerved to the east around two months ago, however, heading across the Atlantic towards Europe.

This is a highly unusual move for a migratory species like great white sharks, who barely ever cross the mid-Atlantic ridge, slap-bang in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

Scientists believe Nukumi may have made the unusual trip because she is pregnant, and now looking for a place to give birth away from aggressive male great whites.

Could the shark reach the UK?

The shark has already travelled a significant distance from where she usually calls home, and is currently around 1,700 nautical miles away from British shores.

Some experts say it’s possible that if her journey continues, she could be “capable of reaching the UK coast”.

OCEARCH's chief scientist Dr Bob Hueter, however, said “white sharks are rare” off the UK coast, adding that if Nukumi doesn’t turn back the way she came soon, she may “go to offshore islands or seamounts in the eastern Atlantic, places like the Azores.”

“Or perhaps she will head towards the opening into the Mediterranean Sea, as there are white sharks in the Med”, he added.

Based on the behaviour of other sharks scientists have tracked, Dr Hueter says:

“If she behaves like other sharks that have shown a similar pattern, she will make a turn and loop back into the western Atlantic.

How rare are sharks in Europe?

According to the Pew Trust, there are around 130 different species of shark found in European waters.

Thanks to threats from human activity like fishing, however, shark populations have declined in recent years, with around half the shark and ray species in European waters considered threatened or at risk of becoming threatened.

Are great white sharks dangerous?

Over the past five years, the average number of shark attacks annually has been just 80.

Although great whites are often the culprits of this relatively small number of attacks, research has found that many are not fatal - with great whites taking a “sample bite” then releasing the human target.

Research indicates that humans are not a great white’s intended prey, with attacks on swimmers or surfers likely to be a confusion: as humans can look like seals viewed from below by the shark.

Like most other shark species, great whites are believed to be declining in number due to overfishing and getting accidentally caught in fishing nets.

Scientists are concerned that the areas Nukumi is travelling through may put her at risk of getting caught in such nets.

Dr Hueter said the shark should be able to tear through fishing gear, but that run-ins with hooks and lines could present “a severe risk to her survival”.

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