Shark Week: The Podcast

S2 Ep.4: A Great White Shark Nursery Beneath the Waves

Episode Summary

On a mission to find great white shark nurseries, Dr. Craig O’Connell returns to Western Australia to track female shark behavior. With only five known nursery locations in the world, they hope that finding shark pups and juveniles will help them learn more about this significant species. Dr. O'Connell weighs in on what he and the research team learned.

Episode Notes

On a mission to find great white shark nurseries, Dr. Craig O’Connell returns to Western Australia to track female shark behavior. With only five known nursery locations in the world, they hope that finding shark pups and juveniles will help them learn more about this significant species. Dr. O'Connell weighs in on what he and the research team learned.

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Find episode transcript here:

Episode Transcription

LUKE TIPPLE: Good day. I'm Luke Tipple. Happy Shark Week and welcome to the Daily Bite, the show where we go behind the scenes with the stars of Shark Week and talk about one of our favorite subjects, sharks. Today, were joined by Dr. Craig O'Connell on a mission to Western Australia to find a five mete great white shark and her pups, and return to the lair of the great white. Let's have a listen.


SPEAKER 2: For decades fishermen have told of terrifying great white encounters in these waters.


SPEAKER 3: There's huge sharks out there as big as their boat.


SPEAKER 4: She was a girl for sure, and she might have been pregnant, she was that round.


SPEAKER 2: These are no ordinary great whites.


LUKE TIPPLE: Well, it looks like things got pretty hectic in Western Australia this year. Welcome back to the show, Doctor Craig O'Connell.


DR. CRAIG O'CONNEL: Thank you so much for having me, Luke. I'm excited to be here.


LUKE TIPPLE: So tell me-- last year we chatted and you went to a similar region and you were working with Mark. And you found some white shark action that was pretty intense and you mentioned that there was still a lot of work left to do. Is that what started this whole mission?


DR. CRAIG O'CONNEL: Yeah, pretty much last year when we went there we saw a lot of sub-adult white sharks, which was really exciting. But we were trolling a camera last year and we saw what I thought was a newborn white shark pup. And to me, that was a sign that we were very close to the Western Australian white shark nursery. So to me that opened the door to a lot of questions. Is this the nursery or not? And that sent us back there this year and we had some really, really good success.


LUKE TIPPLE: And we're you working in the same region or were you-- I mean, it's all pretty remote over there, but we are close to the same location as the last year?


DR. CRAIG O'CONNEL: So we started off in the same region and we had pretty much the same result, a lot of sub-adult male white sharks, which was exciting. And I mean, we got down and got face to face with these sharks, but we weren't really getting the information that we wanted. We wanted to find those pups and what was really exciting is Mark had an idea. He was like, I've heard a lot of stories about these white shark's pups being in this one particular location. So we thought that was promising, but we also ran into a fisherman along the way, and I hopped on his boat.


He was super welcoming and he showed me a bunch of pictures of white shark pups that he caught in the same spot that Mark was talking about. And these white sharks were probably about five feet long. So that puts them at just a couple of months old. And so that kind of set way for the rest of the expedition. We had to go there and it was about a 24 hour steam to get there, and we got there, and it was absolute magic when we showed up.


LUKE TIPPLE: Well, let's save the magic for a little later in this discussion. But I want to set up the context of the conservation, perhaps the politics, the safety of what that region of the world in Western Australia is dealing with. So last year you went there with Mark and it was in response to a lot of fatal attacks that were happening in the area. So kind of just give people just a really brief rundown about what that looks like and the kind of climate for white sharks in Western Australia?


DR. CRAIG O'CONNEL: Yeah, white sharks-- it's a very sensitive topic in that particular area. There's been a lot of fatal attacks and when I got there, there was a lot of resistance to doing white shark research just because of the sensitivity of the issue. People are afraid of these sharks, but the thing that I found really promising about what's going on there is that the local government and some of these people, they didn't want to go out and retaliate and kill these sharks. They wanted to learn more.


So although there was a little bit of resistance, what I did is I spoke to a lot of members of the community, and they were very welcoming after I explained to them what we were looking for and what we were trying to learn. And at the end of the day, they want us to go out there and learn as much as possible, so that we can give them enough information that they can enter the water a little in-- and it could be a little bit safer for them, if that makes sense.


Basically, knowledge is power. and in that particular area the more we can learn about the White shark patterns and where these large females are potentially moving and pupping and all that information-- it could be extremely valuable as to when the water is safe for them to use.


LUKE TIPPLE: That makes a lot of sense. What would be the significance of finding the actual pupping ground for-- I mean, both for science and for the locals?


DR. CRAIG O'CONNEL: So the significance of finding a shark nursery is the fact that these animals are representing the future of the species, and when we talk about white sharks they're representing the future of our oceans. These are apex predators. And so the fact that people have been searching in this area for a very long time and they haven't found the white shark nursery is super significant. You want to find it because if it's in an area that's getting exploited right now, that could potentially mean that along many generations down the line these white sharks will no longer be there.


So we wanted to find it and we wanted to protect it. And so that was quite a task because so many people have tried and so many people have failed.


LUKE TIPPLE: Now, on this particular mission you took Mark again, but you also took Madison Stewart. How did that come about?


DR. CRAIG O'CONNEL: So Madison Stewart, she was a late addition to the team and one of the key reasons why we had her is that she had such a strong background in sharks and shark biology in Australia. So we couldn't think of a better member to have on our team, and I got to admit, I was super excited to meet her and she was such a strong addition. She brought so much to this particular expedition that was well worth it.


LUKE TIPPLE: So when we first start the show, we're given the premise of trying to find a very large shark. Remind me of-- what was her name again?


DR. CRAIG O'CONNEL: Her name was Charlotte.


LUKE TIPPLE: Charlotte, that's right.


DR. CRAIG O'CONNEL: And this was a big pregnant female, over five meters, so over 15 feet. And basically, the local government tagged the shark and the shark was spotted numerous times swimming along the shoreline, and she actually shut down a lot of the beaches. And so the idea was can we cross paths with Charlotte. And if we do find her, can she lead us to the pumping ground?


LUKE TIPPLE: That makes sense. Well, working on the premise that they were trying to find this very large shark-- the team got into the water at first uncaged. Not sure if that was the greatest idea because it didn't seem to work out so well. Let's check that out.




MADISON STEWARD: Look, Mark, it's on your left. And you see if it's a male or female?


MARK: It looks like a stubborn old bull.


SPEAKER 2: It's not a good sign. Males and pregnant females don't mix.




SPEAKER 2: For a glimpse of Charlotte the team must move away from the male, closer to the drop off.


MADISON STEWARD: Keep your eyes on the shark. Keep your eyes on the shark. It's deadly.


SPEAKER 2: But the aggressive male won't give up, and now, it's blocking their route back to safety. So Craig calls the dive.


MADISON STEWARD: Dive, which shark was it? Let's get out of the water.


SPEAKER 2: Offshore, the main boat drops in emergency cage.


MADISON STEWARD: Somehow we've got to get to that cage.


SPEAKER 2: Before they can attempt the 100 yard swim, another arrives.


LUKE TIPPLE: So that was a pretty amped up little male white shark. Now, what was that dive like for you, mate?


DR. CRAIG O'CONNEL: It was interesting. It was exciting and basically that was my first dive since the start of the pandemic. So I had to shake the rust off quick. But we all made it work and we all stayed close together, but essentially, it was really dramatic because we got in the water we had a couple seals around us and sea lions.


And are we just sensed that something was wrong. The seals disappeared, the sea lions swam off. And up actually happening was the boat radioed our boat that we had jumped in off of and told us that they spotted a white shark.


It's immediately-- there was a little bit of panic, like, Oh my gosh. We are in a pretty dramatic situation because all the prey went away, it was really murky, and we had to get our way back to the boat and get to the cage. And so it was just a crazy dive, but to me it was exciting. Because the best way to do these types of shoots is to get right into the action and we definitely did.


LUKE TIPPLE: And tell me about, obviously, the way that we see it played out is essentially the shark chasing you back to the cage, shark bumps the cage, you guys get hauled out of the water with low air, everything. I'm sure all of that happened as it was told, but in the process of the dive you guys seem to be in some fairly protected, kelpie type of area. What was that decision like to cross and get over to the cage? Couldn't you have gone back to land, gone back to the boat, got a tender?


DR. CRAIG O'CONNEL: Yeah that was-- I've made a lot of choices in my life. This probably wasn't the brightest one, but--


LUKE TIPPLE: It just sound like more fun to go to the cage?


DR. CRAIG O'CONNEL: Yeah, exactly. But I mean--


LUKE TIPPLE: That works, that's a reason.


DR. CRAIG O'CONNEL: In reality, in order to learn about this particular environment, you got to explore it and that's what we are doing. We are calling this particular site. the drop zone, or the death zone, or the kill zone. And was this massive ledge where we know the White sharks are hunting and waiting for these Australian sea lions to make a mistake.


And it proved very true because the second we went over that ledge and dropped down, the shark was down there waiting for us. So it was dramatic, but I mean, it's basically nature right there in front of your face. And it made perfect sense why everything was happening the way it did.


LUKE TIPPLE: So explain that for people. the hunting behavior, the ambush attack of the White shark, and why they'd be hanging under that ledge?


DR. CRAIG O'CONNEL: Yeah, well, you know what's exciting about what we learned last year about this particular area is-- we're learning the hunting or predatory tactics of the White sharks at this Island. And what we noticed is that these white sharks are really using counter shading to their advantage, their dark upper body. They hug the sea floor, so if the prey is up above them, the prey never see them coming because that white shark is blending in with that dark sea floor with all that kelp.


And what's happening, especially at the location we hang out at is they wait for these Australian sea lions to make a mistake. These Australian sea lions hang out in this really protected area and then eventually, they have to leave the feed. And if they make the mistake where they don't hug the sea floor and they go and hang out right up there at the surface, that's when the white shark uses its strategy to its advantage. It launches this vertical attack and takes these Australian sea lions out at the snap your fingers. It happens so, fast it's really intimidating.


LUKE TIPPLE: And is that similar behavior that you see in other parts of the world? I know you've done a lot of work up in the North East of the United States. Talk about the different attack behaviors of different shark populations.


DR. CRAIG O'CONNEL: Yeah, so this-- at this particular location in Western Australia the hunting strategy of these white sharks is very similar to the way it is in South Africa. In Guadeloupe, Mexico we are starting to learn that these white sharks are feeding on the big elephant seals in the middle of the water column. They don't attack them up at the surface all the time. And then in Massachusetts or Cape Cod, it's a little bit different of a foraging strategy because the sea floor doesn't allow them to basically breach from underneath.


It's a very shallow water area and these white sharks are basically coming right up along the shoreline. On certain occasions they beach themselves and they take the seals down and feed that way, so Western Australia to me is very similar to South Africa. They're using the sea floor to their advantage and they launch these vertical attacks.


LUKE TIPPLE: So in a lot of locations you turned up, it seemed, fairly quickly though these smaller male white sharks pretty amped up. They were definitely game for action, but what does that tell you about the larger spread of the population? Like, where the females would be in comparison to where the males are hanging out?


DR. CRAIG O'CONNEL: That was a question I kept asking the entire time. Where are these big females? And what we're learning is that this particular area we're working at is home to these sub-adult and juvenile males. It has an abundance of prey that they like to feed on, like these smaller shark species, these rays. And these larger females, from what I've learned now, they're using basically that offshore shelf. They work their way along the offshore shelf where they're feeding on a lot of different types of prey.


And then they work their way inshore to pup, and we don't exactly know when that is. And that's what we want to look at next. We found out where we think the nursery is. Now, we want to learn a little bit more about these big females because every single time we have gone to Western Australia we haven't seen one.


LUKE TIPPLE: It seems like there's a fair amount of competition between the smaller males and the aggression that they're showing. Would you expect to find the smaller sharks in the same waters?


DR. CRAIG O'CONNEL: In the same waters as the big females?


LUKE TIPPLE: As the males-- of the amped up males that you kept finding. Because some might say the smaller ones hang out together, but it didn't seem that was what was happening.


DR. CRAIG O'CONNEL: Yeah, no. So we're actually seeing these young of the year white shark pups hanging out with sub-adult male white sharks. And something I found out is that these young of the year white shark pups-- I mean, we only had a couple interactions, but they were the most aggressive sharks I have ever seen in my entire life. And it's almost as if they have to be that way in order to compete with these sub-adult males. And they have to be fast, they have to be feisty.


Because if you think about it, these 10 to 12 foot great white sharks can make an easy meal of a five foot great white shark, but, they are coexisting in the same area, but obviously these smaller white sharks have to use some sort of strategy to get away from the sub-adult males.


LUKE TIPPLE: So after several days of diving, it looks like you guys got that tip from the fisherman and moved over to what turned out to be a quite productive area. Let's check out the white shark action that they actually got once they arrived at what turned out to be the pupping grounds.


SPEAKER 2: Doctor Craig O'Connel and his team are diving at night. Craig has a potential juvenile in his sights.


DR. CRAIG O'CONNEL: What's that coming in, what's that coming in? I got the shot. Yes, pups on. We got the measurement. I got the [INAUDIBLE] And to me, that's exactly what we came here for. That's what we've been spending our lives on. I can't believe we did it. This is amazing.


LUKE TIPPLE: So you turn up at a new site, there's big white sharks again. Did you initially think that this would be the juvenile location?


DR. CRAIG O'CONNEL: Yeah. I thought we'd see-- I was hoping we'd see a lot later stage juveniles, ones that were almost sub-adults, but in reality, I didn't expect to see what we wound up seeing. And to me, this was probably one of the most groundbreaking things I've ever done in my entire life.


And I was so excited about what was happening that I couldn't wait to get in the water, but I had so much adrenaline that-- I don't know what was going on, but I found myself punching in the back of the boat trying to exhaust some of my energy. Because we were waiting for the cages to go in the water and you could see the sharks right there. So everything was coming to life. Like what we went to look for was right in front of our very eyes, which I couldn't believe.


LUKE TIPPLE: And what were the results of that? You found several young of the year. What sizes, how old do you think they were, what's the significance of all of that?


DR. CRAIG O'CONNELL: So we wound up seeing by the end of the entire expedition I'd say five young of the year white sharks, maybe three young of the years and two that were just over a year old. But they were all right around 6 feet long, one was 5 feet 8 inches. Like super small white sharks. And what's super exciting about that for me is I work in a white shark nursery off of Montauk, New York, and I have tried to dive with those sharks for the past five years, probably went in the water 50 different times to make it happen, and I've never seen a white shark underwater of that size.


Yet we rock up to this spot in Western Australia, and the sharks were all over us. And the goal was to eventually get outside of the cage, wear are these crazy camouflage suits, take pictures of the sharks. And I wouldn't get out of the cage because they were biting the cage. They were all over the place.


But was what was so amazing and the whole magic of this entire moment is that we worked incredibly hard to get to that particular site and then it was just all coming to life right in front of us. White shark after a white shark, they just kept passing by. We were able to measure all of them. And to me, it was unreal. I can't believe it actually happened.


LUKE TIPPLE: Their behavior was honestly kind of surprising to me. I mean, I expected to see smaller maybe sort of salmon shark behavior, something where they're sort of coming in and hitting really fast and not taking big risks. But these guys are coming in and smashing into the cage. Like what were they thinking? Was that surprising for you?


DR. CRAIG O'CONNELL: Yeah, 100% surprising. I did not expect them to bump the cage. I brought my camera down with my lasers, and my very first interaction was with one of these pups that swam directly into my dome port, scratched my dome port. So every picture I took had this mark across it, so I was super frustrated. But yeah, super surprised. But like we were saying, these sharks are sharing space with some of the larger white sharks in the area, these larger, late-stage juvenile sub-adults.


They need to compete for food in order to grow and they also need to be very evasive. So they have to move really fast or else these sub-adult white sharks are going to eat them. And I think that's part of the reason why we are seeing that type of behavior. They're competing for food and also they're kind of on edge. Like these sub-adults can rock up at any time and make a meal out of them. So they have to be quick, get what they want, and get out of there.


LUKE TIPPLE: And knowing what you saw there and what you know about the life cycle of the great whites, what are those juveniles chance of survival to make it through to adulthood?


DR. CRAIG O'CONNELL: Extremely low. I wouldn't be able to tell you the exact number, but I think that's one of the key reasons why we want to find this nursery because these animals represent the future of our oceans, the future apex predators of this particular ecosystem. And if this nursery happens to be in an area where they're being heavily exploited and captured in fishing gear or nets, we need to do something about it.


But the thing that's exciting about this site is it's so remote that there's little to no fishing effort in the area. So we think that these white sharks are protected. But as they grow up, they're going to venture away from this particular area, they're going to get bigger. They might be captured in nets or drum lines or something along those measures or along those lines. There's protective measures protecting the beach, but unfortunately, the sharks are getting killed.


So the chances of surviving to adulthood is very slim mostly because of us. But the fact that we think we now found this nursery ground means we can continue to protect it and hopefully protect these white sharks so they do turn into adults and help regulate our ecosystems.


LUKE TIPPLE: You guys came up with what I thought was a pretty cool rig. It was a tow cam that's designed to look attractive to juvenile white sharks and get them to come in. Let's check out that action.


DR. CRAIG O'CONNELL: What in the world is this?


MARK: This one's what I call a high speed tow cam. I've just put these toggles on the back, and these toggles just add a little bit of vibration just to maybe get that a little bit more interest to get the juvenile to come in and maybe come, pass, and have a look.


MADISON STEWARD: It's a pretty interesting way to prey on the curiosity of a juvenile white shark, I have to admit.


DR. CRAIG O'CONNELL: I actually think this could work really well. I mean, think about it. Inquisitive, adolescent white sharks, they're going to go for this. They have to.


SPEAKER 3: Rigged with cameras, the tow cam is released.




DR. CRAIG O'CONNELL: Oh wow, look at that.


MADISON STEWARD: Well, it's really clear.


DR. CRAIG O'CONNELL: It's very patchy. See, there's a lot of sea grass here, sandy areas here?


MARK: Let's toggle so that they vibrate nicely.


SPEAKER 3: To attract the pups, the device is towed close to the sea floor where they hunt.






MARK: Wow.


DR. CRAIG O'CONNELL: Oh, my God. That's a really small white shark.


LUKE TIPPLE: OK. So genuinely, that rig was super cool. Do you think it was simulating squid or just something interesting and kind of moving around and getting their attention?


DR. CRAIG O'CONNELL: I saw it and I did not know what to think of it. Mark has a lot of amazing gadgets, and they look really weird, but they always work. And this particular gadget, this towing system, worked really well. And he called the little things in the back toggles. And like you just said, I think they were representing squid. You have all these tentacles moving around--


MARK: Something moving like that, yeah.


DR. CRAIG O'CONNELL: Yeah, and it's creating all these underwater vibrations, which are attractive to sharks. And so hopefully, it would increase the chances of the sharks coming in. And literally the second he put it in, it worked. The shark came right in and followed it for, I don't know, 20 minutes. And again, it was the same thing. I keep mentioning Montauk because this is where I work. But I've tried towing cameras.


They don't look like that, but it's the same premise. You have a camera, you tow bait behind it, and you hope the white sharks come in. I've towed it for hundreds of hours, not a single white shark. And then here, once again, the second we put it in, 20 minutes of a white shark following it. It was super impressive.


LUKE TIPPLE: So what are we seeing in that area? Are we seeing sort of natural white shark behavior in the absence of a lot of boats that are around normally or are we seeing perhaps artificial behavior where you guys were putting bait and BRUVs in the water and all types of attractive stuff? Was there any attractant making them behave like that?


DR. CRAIG O'CONNELL: We had the BRUVs in. So we did quite a few BRUVs. But the thing that was really promising about it is we showed up and the sharks were there.


LUKE TIPPLE: I mean, the BRUV still isn't a lot of bait. That's not a lot of food.


DR. CRAIG O'CONNELL: We are regulated by how much bait we can use in the BRUV, so it was 2 pounds of bait, which is nothing. So we put it in just to create a little bit of scent. But we got to the site, we're in a very big boat, and then we got into the smaller boat so we could start looking around the area just kind of getting a lay of the land. And I got in that small boat. And the second I got in that small boat, I had my camera on my lap, and I saw the smallest white shark dorsal fin I've ever seen in my entire life.


And the first thing that came to my brain was jump in the water because I thought it was our only opportunity to see a small shark. So I had the lasers, I had everything, and I almost went into the water. And thank God I didn't because these small white sharks were super aggressive. And to me, that was a sign it was the perfect spot. No bait and the sharks were already there. So it wasn't artificial behavior, it was natural. That was a hot spot.


LUKE TIPPLE: And from the tracking data that you have available anyway, is this particular area frequented by the larger females?


DR. CRAIG O'CONNELL: No. So the data that we have about these larger females thus far is showing us that they are using that offshore shelf. And then on occasion, they make these sporadic movements inshore, work their way along the shoreline, but they tend to not go to that particular area.


And so what that tells us is that we may have not found the pupping ground, which is where they drop the white shark pups, but we may have found the nursery ground, which is two completely different things. And that's where these smaller young of the year and juvenile white sharks spend a significant amount of time. They have an abundance of food and they can grow to hopefully sub-adult to adulthood.


LUKE TIPPLE: That does make sense. So if we compare contrast what you'd expect to find now that you found a nursery, what would you expect the pupping grounds to look like?


DR. CRAIG O'CONNELL: To be honest, I have been looking for the pumping grounds here in Montauk and I'm unsure. But if I had to guess, it's going to be a really shallow water environment with an abundance of prey so that these animals can be initially protected and they can eat so that they can get robust. And then they're eventually going to go to an area where the temperature is absolutely perfect for a reasonable amount of time, and then these animals can continue to use that area. That's the nursery area.


But the pupping ground, it's an initial shallow water environment with an abundance of prey, and then they can make their way to somewhere else. But yeah, I've been looking for the actual pupping grounds and we haven't found them here in Montauk. But something that's quite interesting that we've learned is that the commercial fishermen are seeing extremely small white shark pups, about 4 feet and 1/4 inches or 4 and 1/2 feet about 20 miles offshore, which are recently pumped white sharks, which doesn't make too much sense to me.


You'd expect them to be in shallow water. I'm saying I expect to see the pumping grounds inshore, shallow, with abundance of bait, but maybe it's offshore. It's something where there's so many open-ended questions that we have to go out and figure out. This is a heavily and extensively studied species yet we know so little about them, and to me, that's what's so exciting.


LUKE TIPPLE: Do you think there's a possibility that they're getting pups in perhaps deep water because it is kind of this just big desert area, and then they'll just be lining it into the shore?


DR. CRAIG O'CONNELL: It's a possibility. But I initially, I never thought that was the case. I always thought--




But it could be. Who knows. We can look at it soon, you and me.


LUKE TIPPLE: Well, what is the plan for the area? I mean, you've been there-- how long have you been going to Western Australia for? Is that the second trip, second year you've been down?


DR. CRAIG O'CONNELL: This is my second trip. And the good news is there was no spiders on this time around.


LUKE TIPPLE: I remember you didn't like them that much. That really shouldn't be your biggest concern.


DR. CRAIG O'CONNELL: The things are huge. I mean, they are this big. But anyways, there's no spider.


LUKE TIPPLE: [INAUDIBLE] shock the guy I scared off by benign mouthparts.


DR. CRAIG O'CONNELL: Too many legs, but it's OK.


LUKE TIPPLE: What are the plans to go down again, and what would be the next field of research? Is it to find that pupping ground, is it to follow around more large females? And again, going back to how that's going to benefit the community's understanding of their resources.


DR. CRAIG O'CONNELL: So if we're lucky, we just submitted a permit because we think we found the nursery ground. We saw a bunch of small sharks. This is the second year we've seen these young of the year white sharks in the same general location. We're fulfilling the criteria of a nursery area, but it takes multiple years to actually say this is the nursery ground.


So we just submitted a scientific permit. If we're lucky, it gets granted and we are going to be doing extensive research in the same secret location to try and determine if it is indeed a white shark nursery. But that's a couple of years of work.


And then after that, if I'm lucky, we could continue working with potentially those big females, following those big females and trying to find the pupping ground. But I think that part is really far off. I think we've got to focus on this nursery area right now. If we can determine that it's in this really remote location, really protected, then that's really good for this white shark population.


LUKE TIPPLE: Would you be looking for site fidelity from the juveniles to establish that as one particular area that they hang out at?


DR. CRAIG O'CONNELL: Yeah. So there's three key criteria. You have to be able to demonstrate that these young of the year white sharks or juveniles are using this one site more frequently in comparison to another. So that's the first criteria. You have to be able to demonstrate that the same individual young of the year or juvenile white shark repeatedly uses that same habitat within the same year.


And then you also have to demonstrate that these young of the year juvenile white sharks are repeatedly returning to that location over successive years. So those are the three key criteria. If you could demonstrate that, then you demonstrated that it is a nursery area.


LUKE TIPPLE: And how many of those nursery areas have been successfully identified in the world today?


DR. CRAIG O'CONNELL: You have one in California, one in New York, there's two in the eastern area of Australia. I'm trying to think where else. There's one in South Africa, five. And that might be just about it. So this would potentially be number six if we can demonstrate it.


LUKE TIPPLE: It doesn't sound like we know enough about it. I mean, it's amazing that in all the world, there's only six that we know about. Obviously it takes a lot of time and effort to get out there. So thanks for doing that. It's awesome.


DR. CRAIG O'CONNELL: Yeah, we're working on it. It's exciting work.


LUKE TIPPLE: Madison, we couldn't reach you before. I'm so stoked you could join us. Where are you? What's going on?


MADISON STEWARD: Sorry about that. I am on a noisy street in Indonesia at the moment. Just been let out of my quarantine actually, so I'm a happy free human right now.


LUKE TIPPLE: I've been following your career for a long time and I'm not at all surprised. I always expect to see you in some remote part of the world shedding light on what's going on there. And if that's where you're out there, your tidiness is completely forgiven. I was actually really looking forward to talking to you. I've been following what you've been doing for years now, and as a fellow Aussie, I'm extremely impressed by your work.


So I just wanted to know, with you jumping on board this mission, and obviously you've done a lot of work with sharks and particularly in that area, what did you see that was surprising to you because you seem to make comments quite frequently that the sharks weren't behaving as you expected. Was it a regional thing or a species thing? What did you learn from the trip?


MADISON STEWARD: Totally. What I saw that really shocked me is natural behavior and natural curiosity and interactions with us that didn't require chumming, which is just like unheard of most places that we go to dive the shark. So that was like the most spectacular part of what we saw.


LUKE TIPPLE: And the diving, it seemed like you took that on pretty well. But we've been talking about some of the hairy experiences. Was that your first experience with juveniles being so amped up and sub-adults being so amped up?


MADISON STEWARD: Yes, it was. My goodness it was memorable. It was something else. I mean, we had all sorts of radical situations on that trip. I remember saying to everybody the scariest part was actually all the failures of my dive equipment, not the sharks, but it was exciting times for all of us. I think I aged five years after that trip.


LUKE TIPPLE: Well, I know that a lot of your work has been done in policy and advocacy and community education. What do you think that the results of shows like this and the research that comes with it can do in terms of helping white sharks and sharks in general and the populations of people that they have to coexist with?


MADISON STEWARD: I think without productions like this, the only real knowledge people have of sharks and our interactions with them is the negative stuff that they see on jaws in the media when someone's attacked. So I think productions like this are a really important part of really changing the narrative around how humans can interact with sharks and about how we should treat them.


LUKE TIPPLE: And Craig, taking someone like Madison out there, you said that she was kind of a late addition, do you want more people to come out and see this research and to contribute?


DR. CRAIG O'CONNELL: Yes. And I want her to come back out again when we do the next one if we do the next one. She is amazing to work with. And I think the more people we have out there, the better to show them the importance of sharks. Of course, she already knows the importance of sharks, but it's just amazing to be out there showing people exactly what these sharks are all about. And now we have a new member of our team, Madison, who's absolutely incredible, and I can't wait to do it again.


MADISON STEWARD: Aw, shucks. Thanks. I'm so excited to go back as well.


LUKE TIPPLE: Madison, what's your next mission? Is it more white sharks or what are you up to?


MADISON STEWARD: Unfortunately, my next mission isn't so glorious. I'm in Indonesia going back to documenting all the fishing and the effects that COVID's had on some of the shark fisheries here.


LUKE TIPPLE: And what that? Is it less pressure?


MADISON STEWARD: Well, we're going to find out. I'm not entirely sure. It's actually happened on such a large scale, but it doesn't seem to have dented the trade. But it is putting more pressure on the locals because they're not able to make enough money to even cover the cost of fuel at the moment. So it'll be interesting to see how the changes in the trade are affecting some of the smaller communities like this one.


LUKE TIPPLE: And that's in Indonesia, right? That's where you are?


MADISON STEWARD: Yeah, that's where I am. That's why it sounds like I'm in the middle of a busy street in New York.


MARK: It does sound like you're in Jakarta.


LUKE TIPPLE: Awesome. Well hey, Craig, Madison, thanks so much for joining us. I can't wait to see the next install. And if you got room on the boat, I want to be on the next one, seriously. That was some of the best white shark diving I've seen in ages.


DR. CRAIG O'CONNELL: We would love to have you join us.


LUKE TIPPLE: Well, we just got to wait till quarantine. I couldn't even go home to see my parents. But we'll see how that plays out. But thanks guys. And everyone at home, that's your Daily Bite. Thank you so much for joining us. Subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. So I'll see you on the next Daily Bite, but until then, happy Shark Week.