Pregnancy Watch for Great White Shark Tracked off Virginia Beach

Is @MissCostaShark pregnant? Her movements a few weeks ago suggested she might be. Now we’re waiting anxiously for another ping to give us another clue.

 Miss Costa. Photo: OCEARCH

Miss Costa. Photo: OCEARCH

The 1,668-pound great white shark recently "pinged" off the Virginia Beach coast, and the coming weeks will tell whether or not she's expecting.

OCEARCH, a nonprofit dedicated to researching great white sharks and other predator species, tagged "Miss Costa" (named for the sunglasses brand, an OCEARCH partner) with location technology several years back. Now, they're able to track her whereabouts, along with other tagged sharks, via the organization's "Global Shark Tracker." 

Measuring in at more than 1,600 pounds and 12 feet five inches, Miss Costa was originally tagged in September of 2016 on Nantucket. Her travels have been documented through a series of "pings," or tracker locations, up and down the Atlantic Coast, in the Gulf of Mexico, and offshore. OCEARCH describes a 'ping' as the moment when "the tagged shark's dorsal fin breaks the surface of the water" and sends a location to a satellite.

You can see Miss Costa being tagged and released in the OCEARCH video below:

Miss Costa "pinged" just last week off of Virginia Beach, and OCEARCH Founding Chairman and Expedition Leader Chris Fischer says that while there's a good chance the shark is pregnant, she's keeping researchers (and her adoring fans) guessing.

Great whites mate in the Cape Cod/Nova Scotia region, Fischer says, and before they're sexually mature, they complete an annual one-year migration along the coast. Once they've mated, they make a migratory loop that takes two years due to the 18-month gestation period. "What the big question with Miss Costa is right now, is that will she return to Cape Cod, which is an indication that she's not pregnant, and she is going up there to potentially mate, or will she do something else?" explains Fischer. Mating season is here, he says, so "as we all follow, the tracker will reveal her state." 

As for the excitement of a few weeks ago, the shark's movements certainly raised some eyebrows. "If you look at her track a couple of weeks ago, she made kind of a loop offshore," which was different from her previous coastal tracks, Fischer says.

Miss Costa's behavior had researchers scratching their heads, and the jury is still out on whether she's pregnant. Fischer says that when white sharks commit to Cape Cod, they make a beeline, traveling more than 100 miles per day. "Every week that goes by and she's not there, would get you leaning toward that gestation thing," he says.

While the public has the ability to join in the fun as Miss Costa and other sharks are tracked, Fischer hopes that people realize just how important sharks are in the grand scheme of things. "Big sharks mean lots of fish sandwiches for our kids. They are the wolf. They are the balance keeper." Without big sharks such as Miss Costa, the ocean would be full of jellyfish, and without them "our shellfish don't filter the water. It's not only the abundance for the future, but it's the quality of the ocean now."

To follow Miss Costa's journey-- and to see if other sharks are pinging nearby-- visit the OCEARCH website or tag along on social media. 

-Laura Boycourt

Bay Bulletin