I’m sure most of you are aware that Great White sharks are a highly migratory species and have been known to travel vast distances. Here in South Africa our Great Whites are known to travel from areas such as Gansbaai in a North-East direction up the coast of South Africa, in to Mozambique and even over to Madagascar before returning back to Gansbaai.

These journeys that our Great Whites take are incredible however this week’s blog is about a certain individual whose migration is even more spectacular and made this shark a celebrity! Her name was Nicole

7th November, 2003, a 3.8m female Great White shark was tagged with a PAT (pop-up archival transmitting) satellite tag near Dyer Island, Gansbaai, South Africa.

28th February, 2004, the day the PAT tag was programmed to release and pop-up sending its location and data to a satellite, the shark was 2km off Exmouth, North-West Australia!! On top of this this extraordinary transoceanic journey of nearly 11,000km had been accomplished in just 99 days!

20th August, 2004, just under 9 months after the day she left she was sighted back in Gansbaai! How did the scientist know it was her you might be wondering? Well long story short, photographic identification of a great white sharks 1st Dorsal fin (the famous one seen slicing through the water in movies such as Jaws!) can be used like a finger-print as each individual has a unique dorsal fin (see photo below to see how scientist Michael Scholl used photos to identify it was the same shark).

This amazing return-transoceanic journey of over 20,000km is the fastest recorded of any marine fauna (travelling at a minimum speed of just under 5km/hr)!!

So, why the name Nicole?! Well according to people present in Gansbaai during the study, one of the scientists, Dr. Ramón Bonfils’ favourite actress (an apparent shark lover) was Nicole Kidman! Seeing as this shark travelled over to Australia and back they decided to name it after her (lucky lady! I want a shark named after me!!).

As well as being the first recorded great white shark to do this record breaking migration, travelling between 2 of the most famous populations of great whites, Nicole also reached a record max depth of 980m on one of her dives and a record low temperature of 3.8°C! Talk about breaking records!!

Prior to being tagged in 2003, Nicole had been seen annually in Gansbaai since 1999. Interestingly she was only ever seen each year between the months of June-December. This therefore raises the question was Nicole travelling to Australia each year?!

Another interesting question is WHY was she travelling to Australia. It would have been a plausible answer to say ‘maybe to mate’ however at 3.8m Nicole was not yet sexually mature (females only reaching sexual maturity at about 5m!). As with many aspects of Great White sharks lives this question still remains unanswered (kind of cool still not knowing!).

Unfortunately Nicole the celebrity shark has not been seen again since 2004, even though her legend lives on and her story is shared daily here at White Shark Projects. I’m sure like me all of you are hoping that she did not end up being caught, finned or falling prey to many other horrible ways a large number of our sharks do. I’m still hoping to catch that unique dorsal fin on one of my photos!

Written by Tom Slough,
Marine Biologist at White Shark Projects