Marine biologist Luke Tipple interviews the stars of the Shark Week show, “Extinct or Alive: Land of the Lost Sharks.” Forrest Galante talks about his tireless pursuit to find three unique sharks lost to science for nearly 100 years.
Marine biologist Luke Tipple interviews the stars of the Shark Week show, “Extinct or Alive: Land of the Lost Sharks.” Forrest Galante talks about his tireless pursuit to find three unique sharks lost to science for nearly 100 years.
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Find episode transcript here: https://shark-weeks-daily-bite.simplecast.com/episodes/the-pursuit-to-find-three-unique-sharks-lost-to-science
[MUSIC PLAYING] LUKE TIPPLE: Good day, everyone. 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 we're talking to wildlife biologist, Forrest Galante, about probably the coldest Shark Week episode that you'll see this year. Ice and sharks abound in this Extinct or Alive, Jaws of Alaska.
SPEAKER: There's something under the ice, and it's hungry. Every summer, Alaskan fishermen are reporting grizzly sightings. Half consumed and wounded sea lions, otters, and other mammals in the Arctic waters. The bites are from the jaws of a shark.
LUKE TIPPLE: Honestly to say, I watch a lot of Shark Week and nature programming. And the Extinct or Alive shows are up there with my favorites. Welcome back, Forrest Galante. Great to have you here, mate.
FORREST GALANTE: Luke, what's up, buddy? How are you?
LUKE TIPPLE: I'm doing really good, yeah. Having some interesting chats with people this year. And I saw your show come across my desk. I'm like, OK, cool. We talked a bit about what you were going to do last year. And mate, looks like you had a lot of fun.
FORREST GALANTE: Oh, we were cold, I'll tell you that much. It was not a warm shoot. But no, Luke you know this, we chat all the time. Any time I get to do a Shark Week show, I'm happy, right? I'm usually running around. I just got back from the literal desert in Mozambique, where I was roasting hot.
And I was thinking to myself, how much nicer it would to be diving on a Shark Week shoot, instead of chasing animals around the Savannah. So this one was a little cooler than most, temperature speaking. And it was great. We had a lot of fun.
LUKE TIPPLE: So break it down for me. Because there's a lot of sharks and icebergs and neoprene and, I don't know, hoverboards. Like, what are you guys doing?
FORREST GALANTE: There is so much neoprene. Yeah, so this show is Jaws of Alaska. And what happened was, oh, about two years ago now. All of a sudden, there was this uptick in marine mammal attacks in Alaska. And any expert that looked at it went, those aren't orcas. What's going on here? We don't have typical mammal-eating sharks that hang out in this part of Alaska, in the Prince William Sound.
And so we said, let's go and investigate that. And as you look at the shark diversity within Alaska, you realize pretty quickly there's only two real potential suspects that could sort of commit these murders on marine mammals. And those are the salmon shark and the Pacific sleeper shark. Two sharks that Luke as you know, are notoriously difficult to find or film. I--
LUKE TIPPLE: Almost impossible
FORREST GALANTE: --mean to the point it's almost impossible. It really, really is. I mean, one is a deep water benthic shark that is pretty much never seen by humans. And the other is the salmon shark family and mackerel sharks, closest living relative of the great white shark. They can travel at 50 miles per hour. So trying to get on top of one, it's, again, like you said, it's almost impossible. So we knew we had our work cut out for us.
LUKE TIPPLE: And the conditions you guys went to. I mean, for anybody who didn't see in opening, and in what he said, we're in Alaska. We're in icebergs. We're in literal freezing water. Like water that's below freezing, which you can get in saltwater. Explain the dive conditions for us. And what you had to do to prep for this mission.
FORREST GALANTE: Absolutely, yeah. So it is as you said, in some cases, literally below freezing, or close to it because there is icebergs floating around. And there's silty water. It's dark, it's cold. This is not your typical, like, let's go to the Bahamas and do a Shark Week show, right? Where it's all beautiful, crystal clear, warm water. It looks like a tropical bathtub. This is cold, it's gnarly, it's hard conditions.
And the thing that my team and I like to really do a lot because we feel it gives us a competitive edge when working with very flighty sharks, is free dive. Now, typically when you're doing cold water diving you wear a dry suit, right? Because the water is so cold that you don't want it touching your skin. So you wear a dry suit, and you can put on a jacket under that dry suit. And you could stay relatively warm.
Well, you can't free dive in a dry suit. And you can't do the kind of work that my team and I was planning on doing. Especially with these really difficult to locate and work with animals. So we said we've got to do neoprene. We've got to do wet suits, as you pointed out. And it was a lot of neoprene. And even with 9 millimeters of wetsuit and hooded vests underneath that, and looking like the Michelin Man. Like, stuffed to the brim with latex and neoprene. It was still freezing cold. So yeah, the conditions were rough.
LUKE TIPPLE: So you're using 9 mil wetsuits but double-layered, right? Because you had had the Farmer John as well as the top on. So did you have 18 mils on your chest?
FORREST GALANTE: Yep, which is very hard to move around in.
LUKE TIPPLE: Wow, dude. How much lead were you wearing?
FORREST GALANTE: A lot. like, if you a look at my belt in the end. I don't remember anymore. It was like probably close to 30 pounds of lead. And the belt can barely hold that, never mind my lower back and all the rest of it. Ends up being a whole lot of gear to work in those kind of conditions. But yeah, it was amazing, nonetheless.
LUKE TIPPLE: And as part of your kit that you took out there, took this cool little hoverboard, jet board type, auto Silver Surfer type thing. I know that you did it because it was just cool as hell. And you had to do it. But give people the general premise that you pitched the producers on for why you needed to add that to your expense list.
FORREST GALANTE: 100%, yeah. So I found out that these salmon sharks, one of the species that we were tracking down, are incredibly flighty. They're very difficult to get close to, and they're super fast. So when you take those two things into factor, a boat doesn't really work. Because they're too noisy, and they're so flighty. And a canoe or a paddleboard or a kayak, or something like that, doesn't work because the sharks are too fast. You can't keep up with them.
So I was literally racking my brain with, like, if we can find these sharks, if we can see their fins breaking the surface, and know the general vicinity in which they're hanging out. How are we going to actually close the gap to work with them? And through just hours and hours of research, I found these electric jet boards. So it's basically silent because it's electric. They go 46 miles an hour. So nearly as fast as the shark. And they had a pretty substantial battery life. So I was like, we got to give this a try. Like you said, as soon as I saw it I was like, well, any excuse for this, yeah.
But yeah, we got to give it a try. And see if it's even possible to approach these animals in this manner. And what we figured out in the show, it's TV, right? So everything is chopped down in the show. You see us do it for five minutes or three minutes. We're like, we got it, it works. In real life, that was several days of charging the batteries. getting out there, testing it. Like, if we approach them, do we do it from behind? Do we do it from the side? Are they going to get aggressive? Are they going to flee?
And what we found was with the angle of the salmon sharks' head and their incredible eyesight, if we were able to approach them directly behind their dorsal fin on that board, even at speed, they'd let us get right on top of them. And I think I could be wrong, but I think that's kind of the first time anybody's ever got so close to those animals without just being in the water and without it being a chance encounter. So it was fantastic, really, it worked out really well.
LUKE TIPPLE: Yeah, I was pretty surprised. I mean, obviously, there was a lot of logistics at work into getting near a shark that was swimming on the surface and doing all that. And we don't see that work effort that it took in the show. But actually being able to get close to them.
And you could see that the sharks were really surprised. They were genuinely shocked. Because you'd get within, what? A few feet of them and then, suddenly the tail kicked, the splash on the surface. Like, I'm out of here, dude. What was that? It was actually pretty phenomenal to see.
FORREST GALANTE: It was a fun tool to-- one of the things I love doing, Luke, is like repurposing technology for wildlife science. And this was one that I know because I spoke to the creator of the jet board company. And he's like, never in my wildest dreams that I think this would be a tool used to chase sharks in Alaska.
LUKE TIPPLE: Yeah, he's building it for like super yacht guys and stuff, right?
FORREST GALANTE: Exactly. Exactly right, yeah.
LUKE TIPPLE: Yeah, it's supposed to be in the Mediterranean or the Baltic Sea or something with a bunch of rich Russian guys racing around and stuff on it. I think it's cooler in science, anyway.
FORREST GALANTE: Totally. You and me, both.
LUKE TIPPLE: So, following the trajectory of the episode, you start out diving on some icebergs. In what looked like very productive waters, very green, very full of life. But you can't really see much. And I know that you are near some colonies of prey animals. What was the thought process in trying to dive there and capture some activity?
FORREST GALANTE: Well, simply put, whenever I'm doing predator work. We follow a very simple rule. Which is find the prey, find the predator, right? So we went to an area where these marine mammal attacks had been recorded. We found the marine mammals straight away. there was otters and seals and sea lions all over the place.
And we're like, well, let's see if we can find the predator. Let's get in the water. But the area where this glacial runoff takes place. Where these icebergs are breaking off and floating out is, as you said, it's so productive. It's so silty because of all this runoff, and all of this upwelling.
But the visibility, literally, it wasn't even five feet. I mean, it was about to the end of my hand. There's a shot in the show where you see me running my hand along the iceberg underwater. And really and truly, the camera is like here, and me where my face is, I can barely see my own hand. I mean, the visibility was next to nothing.
So while we gave it a good solid attempt there. We realized pretty quickly, although that might be the hub of the prey colony, that's not where we're going to be able to capture any kind of evidence. Because, Luke, you know this better than anyone. You just can't do it in limited visibility like that. You cannot work with sharks when you can't see them.
LUKE TIPPLE: Yeah, I mean, as I think you saw, you might have got a glimpse of something down there. But you've got zero chance of establishing any type of behavioral patterns, or actually doing any work there. I mean, you're basically a sitting duck there. And just trying to see what might happen. But you've really got no chance.
But that obviously led to the next thing, which is let's put down something that can get a bit more bottom time and be a bit more attractive. So after they tried a lot, they put down the baited BRUVs and tried to see what sharks were lurking in the depths. Let's see the results of that effort.
SPEAKER1: So we're going to drop some camera traps right on the spot.
FORREST GALANTE: All right, so what you see here are our BRUVs. Now, BRUVs are baited remote underwater video devices.
SPEAKER 1: We use BRUVs all the time in attempts to discover new or lost species. But we had to improve on our designs to withstand intense deep water pressure.
FORREST GALANTE: Let it go.
SPEAKER 1: We know very little about the Marine life at these depths. So there's really no telling what our cameras could discover.
FORREST GALANTE: So just brought back our brave cameras. We're just going to go through the footage now.
SPEAKER 1: After three days of dropping the BRUVs at various bottom depths. We've got over 80 hours of footage to review.
FORREST GALANTE: Oh, there's a cod. They are deep-water fish. So it's a good indication that we're searching in the right habitat for some of these deep-water sharks. Oh, look at that. there's a wing of something. Just coming up the current.
Whoa. Look at this. There's a huge skate coming into the frame. This is a massive animal. Same family as the sharks, but it's a super cryptic, super rare animal that lives in a deep water environment.
Whoa. Look, guys, we got a sleeper shark. This is awesome. Look at that. Whoa. Look at that. Look at that mouth. That's a big animal, guys. That's like a 10, 12 foot animal. Huge, 1,000 pounds. Do you know how little footage exists of these animals.
SPEAKER 2: So sweet.
LUKE TIPPLE: Now I've got it, mate. This is one of those species that I've always dreamed of seeing, of encountering, of even capturing on film, or anything like that. What was it like when you're watching the playback and you see that sleeper shark come up right to your bait?
FORREST GALANTE: Luke, I'm the last person to sensationalize stuff, as you know. It was like seeing a monster. Like a deep-sea monster. I mean, you read about them, you see images, you look at them in guide books. And you go, wow, that's a crazy-looking shark.
And then to put those BRUVs down there and see the nose of this prehistoric dinosaur creep up and bump the camera. And the way that it turned its head, and you see these cloudy eyes with these, what do you call? Not nematodes, the little copepod parasites on their eyeballs. I mean, it looks like something out of a nightmare. I mean, they are jet black, they're dark, they've got these cloudy eyes.
And I'm not saying I was scared by it. But it just had this just kind of ghoulish, prehistoric, nightmarish--like look. Which is like my favorite kind of animal. Anything that's prehistoric like crocodiles or ancient shark species, stuff like that. I go nuts for it. So it was beyond exciting to see it on the camera.
And then, of course, the challenge was, now what, right? Just because we've got it on the BRUV, doesn't mean that's going to answer whether or not this could potentially be a mammal eater.
LUKE TIPPLE: Exactly. I mean, you're out there to try to solve this mystery. And see if it could be one of the culprits that's contributing to the mammal predations. And you note in the show that the sleeper shark is probably, quite accurately, one of the most difficult sharks to study. Partially, because of the type of animal it is. But also the environment and everything else. Perhaps you can kind of walk people through what the life cycle of the sleeper shark is like and why it is so difficult to know more about them?
FORREST GALANTE: Absolutely. So sleeper sharks and Greenland sharks, they're the same family of sharks. They are these massive ancient sharks that grow up to 20 feet long. They can weigh, I can't even remember, thousands of pounds. They get absolutely enormous. But they are a deep water-- They are a deep, cold water shark, right?
So they live in 600 feet plus. Very rarely approaching the surface, at all. And they're very slow moving. They can live to be 400 plus years old. And one of the reasons, like a tortoise, right. A tortoise can live to be very old because it's so slow moving.
Everything in its life cycle takes place slowly. And the same thing with these sleeper sharks. Now, when you hear all that you go, well, wait a minute. They don't come up to the surface. They get so big but they're slow. They're bottom feeders, that's what benthic means, more or less. How could this be a marine mammal eater?
Well, fishermen catch them occasionally. And when they pull them up and have gutted them. They've found moose in their stomachs, they found seal in their stomachs, they've even found orca in the stomachs. And we all know the orca is the apex predator, even over sharks. They've even found orca inside the stomachs of sleeper sharks.
So there's a huge question. And a huge air of mystery surrounding these animals to say, how are they getting this food? This is not food that a shark that lives in 5,000 foot deep water in Alaska should be eating. And so we thought to ourselves, we have to figure this out. We have to figure out are these animals even capable of coming to the surface to prey on a rapid moving marine mammal.
LUKE TIPPLE: Yeah, and there's, obviously, a lot of scavenging opportunities for animals like that in that type of water. But they also have to be master of the entire water column in order to survive, to get that big, to do what they're doing. So it does make sense that they should be able to approach the types of areas that you are working in.
And one of the things that you note is that it's extremely difficult to get these things on camera. Just because of the logistics behind what you're doing. But even more rare is actually being able to swim with this. And this is like the ultimate bar story of all bar stories. I think you win on this one. You put a sleeper shark in tonic immobility. What?
FORREST GALANTE: I know it's wild. Absolutely wild.
LUKE TIPPLE: That's amazing.
FORREST GALANTE: It was beyond amazing. Honestly, of every bit of shark work I've ever done, I think this was probably the most exciting moment for me. To have this 10 and a half foot long sleeper shark, over a grassy seabed, in 30-foot of crystal clear water in Alaska. And to be scuba diving and have it just approach me just so perfectly that I could give it the little nose rub and turn it into tonic.
And the fact that it just worked so perfectly. I mean, everybody that watches Shark Week understands tonic immobility. They all understand how difficult it is to get sharks into tonic. The risks involved in doing that. And doing it with this literal dinosaur, it was mind blowing to be able to do it.
And I'll tell you the thing that I decreed from doing that, Luke, was that, although I did put it into tonic to see if it would snap or if it would act differently. Because I don't think anybody's ever attempted to put one into tonic before, as far as I know.
I wanted to see if there was any aggressive behavior. You know, the viewers know if you rub a white shark on the nose, if you rub a tiger shark on the nose. The first thing it does is open its jaw and rolls its eyes back in order to try and take a little nip and see what's going on.
This sleeper shark could not have been more passive in this situation. I mean, it was not a scary moment, it was not a dangerous moment, it was just a beautiful moment, swimming with this thing. And that, to me, was proof enough that it was not a creature capable of coming to the surface to actually hunt seals and sea lions.
LUKE TIPPLE: And that makes sense. But it does make me ask a question of how much of that docility that you're seeing from that animal was coming from just fatigue. I mean, you caught it and dragged it up what 500 feet or something, right?
FORREST GALANTE: Yep. Totally, and at the end of the day, I can make my best guess. But it's certainly not conclusive, right? And my guess is, that animal was tired. I checked the hooks every four hours for a long time, which nobody got any sleep. But it might have been hooked within five minutes of putting the line down. But there was no signs of injury, there was no signs of damage to the shark. Regardless, it was definitely fatigued.
But I just didn't see that sort of aggressive behavior. this wasn't like a situation where the shark was fighting for its life kind of thing because it was so exhausted. Not at all. It was in great shape, it was healthy, it was happy. It rested on the bottom for a few minutes. Took off on its own accord and started swimming.
So it felt, to me, like the shark was, although it wasn't exhibiting organic behavior because it couldn't be, it had just been caught. It still didn't express anything that I could consider to be aggressive behavior. I truly believe that they are exclusively scavengers.
LUKE TIPPLE: It does stand to reason, particularly in how it behaves. Because it's tough to draw parallels. But if you think about other extremely long-lived animals. They tend to be fairly slow-moving They tend to not exhibit that real sort of predator. Like, think of a land tortoise. It's not out there tracking down mammals and trying to destroy them. It's just crunching along and living for hundreds of years.
FORREST GALANTE: Exactly, going slow, eating when it gets the opportunity, can live long periods of time without food. Just like a scavenger. So yeah, that would be-- although there was reason to believe that the sleeper shark could have been the predator that we were after. I felt fairly confident, at that point, saying that it wasn't. And I got to dive with a sleeper shark. So that was amazing.
LUKE TIPPLE: Yeah, yeah. I mean, you can't deny that as a motivator. I mean, look, the purpose of Shark Week shows is, obviously, we go out there with a question. The purpose of all science is a question. Whether it's just finding something or describing something or bringing new light to something. But it's also about discovery.
I mean, sure, it could have been that. But what an amazing opportunity to see a shark that we rarely ever see in this type of format. And that to me. I was like, Yes, more of that. More weird stuff. That's so cool.
FORREST GALANTE: Hey, you're speaking my language. More weird stuff is like, that's like my middle name. So I'm all for it.
LUKE TIPPLE: So moving on from our sort of weird sleeper shark into something a little more typical from what people are used to seeing on Shark Week, the salmon sharks. I mean, that's the species I've wanted to go and work with for a long time. And I've looked at different people and how they've approached it. And obviously, you're always seeing the selects of what people's experiences are.
But what I liked in this show is you showed how difficult it was to actually approach these animals.
FORREST GALANTE: We did chop that down. I don't mean to interrupt you, Luke. But we chopped that down a lot. Because we were up there for nearly three weeks working on this project. And as you know, that's a long time for that's a long time for a shark--
LUKE TIPPLE: Yeah, that's a long time for one of these shoots.
FORREST GALANTE: Yeah, and we got the salmon sharks figured out on about, I would say, day 16. Like it took us that long. And looking for them every day and finding them about half the time. And trying to work with them, it took us Yeah 2 and 1/2 weeks to figure them out, to the point that we could interact with them.
LUKE TIPPLE: Well, I honestly had no idea that they'd be that shy. I mean, there are pretty distinct super-predator. They really shouldn't have a reason to be that shy or adverse to foreign things around. Do you think it's just because they're not seeing people in boats and stuff all that much? Or is it just indicative of the species?
FORREST GALANTE: I think it's 50-50. They're definitely not conditioned to human beings. Especially not where we were. I mean, there's nobody there. There's nothing up there. You see it in all the wide shots and the drone shots, there's just nothing. It's just beautiful raw Alaskan wilderness.
So they're definitely not conditioned to people. And it's hard to say. My understanding, and we don't cover this in the show, but it's interesting. My understanding is 20 years ago, there was a lot of salmon sharks. Like a lot of salmon sharks. And we all know that salmon populations have taken a major hit lately. With it, the salmon shark population has taken a hit. And there's also been a commercial fishery for that animal which has, again, contribute to it taking a hit their population.
So my understanding is 20 years ago, salmon sharks were gnarly. Like they would come out of nowhere. They bumped the boat, they hit you, they grab your leg. Because they were all competing with each other, right? And I think that something that's possible. And again, we didn't talk about this in the show. But it's interesting talking about it with you.
Something that's possible that could have happened is that the select few that remain, and while their populations are still dense, they're not what they're used to be. If they could be sharks that have selected for a shyness gene, right? Because all the brazen, all the bullish ones could have been fished out, and could have charged around until they lost all their energy, chasing salmon that aren't there anymore, et cetera. So we could have selectively bred for a slightly more mysterious, slightly more timid shark that also is not competing with hundreds and hundreds and thousands of other ones for the resources.
So now, with that limited population, they have the ability to be slightly more wary. And, of course, after prosecution, they have the desire to be more wary. So I think there might be some factor there that, again, we didn't touch on it in the show. But I think there might be something going on there that we don't know about.
LUKE TIPPLE: OK. So what was the secret in the end? If it took you 16 days to kind of figure out. Was it location? Certain bait? Certain approach tactics? Like what made you get on the sharks. Because that's really the key.
FORREST GALANTE: Yeah, so we don't even see this in the show. But the secret that we figured out, so is a variety of factors. How to approach it, time of day, and sun direction. These were big factors. But the secret sort of--
But the thing that like the straw that broke the camel's back, so to speak, was I brought up there, and this is ridiculous. I brought to Alaska, about 10 gallons of Alaskan fish oil that you feed to your dog. Like fully organic pet Alaskan fish oil. And fish oil is fat, right? That is salmon fat that's been condensed for your dog's shiny coat. And I took that with me as a potential bait thing.
And I was like, oh, we're not going to use it. So we use herring, we call it wild salmon. We tried all these different things. We tried sound. We dragged decoys like they do on all the other Shark Week shows. We drag seal decoys and salmon decoys, nothing.
And eventually, we had a perfect day where the water was flat. There was no wind. So the sharks were comfortable being at the surface. The sun angle was low enough that it didn't seem to spook them as regularly.
And we dumped in a bunch of this pet fish oil. And they just switched on. Like that did it. It wasn't the herring, it wasn't the fresh fish, it was this highly concentrated fatty salmon oil that seemed to really turn them on.
It's like they locked onto it. And they went from, as we were discussing, being this sort of timid, sort of wary sharks. To being legitimately terrifying predators. I mean, they switched on. They started competing with me for food. They're competing with each other.
As soon as there was multiple of them around, they were all fighting each other for dominance. And they turned into a very scary animal, to be quite honest.
LUKE TIPPLE: Wow. I wonder if that's simulating the outflow from a river system or something where. You've got decomposing salmon and you've got that additional fat content and stuff that's coming downstream. Basically, like a big burly trail for them.
FORREST GALANTE: Exactly, no, I think that's exactly what it was. And you see the chums look on the surface, right? If you let oil go into the ocean. You can see, going down the surface where that oil's trail is. And although it's organic and, obviously, actually good for the environment. You see, the sharks turn and come up that trail.
So it's like they lock onto something, and they decide that's it. They're going for it now. And as soon as there are multiple of them. You got that real great white shark behavior going on.
LUKE TIPPLE: Do you know of any autopsies or fisherman stories, or whatever? Where they have caught salmon sharks and found mammal parts in their stomach? Do they even opportunistically feed on them?
FORREST GALANTE: Fisherman stories, for sure. I don't know of any-- we did research this. And I'm blanking on what the outcome was. But there were fishermen that said, no doubt, these salmon sharks are hunting and eating smaller marine mammals. In their opinion, they were opportunistic towards otters, like juvenile seals and sea lions.
Which again didn't truly add up. Because we were talking about 500-pound bull sea lions that were missing half their bodies. So yeah, it was hard to kind of figure out, right then and there, who could be committing these attacks. Like it really was a big question mark right up until the end.
LUKE TIPPLE: Yeah, because I guess we were talking last year about great white sharks that were targeting the sea otters down in around California, and stuff like that. So it stands to reason that a similar species, given the same kind of, opportunistic, opportunity, might be going after those. But again, you're looking at much bigger damage.
I'm curious about the actual food preference, though. Because you tried with a pork chop. Which I wasn't sure if that'll work on not. But the color flash alone from it, I thought, given all the bait that you had in the water, would be attractive. And did you get one to hit the pork chop at all? Or is it just a non-event?
FORREST GALANTE: Absolutely not. And here's the thing. I wasn't going to go out there and shoot a seal in the head and drag that around, right? So the best we could do was simulate seal meat by getting something similar. And when you look at the color, the fat content, et cetera. The pork chop was literally the best we could come up with.
And so we had smell in the water, we gave the shark the option. Sharks, I should say, the option to eat the herring, which we were using as bait, or the pork chop. And the pork chop was shiny and flashy. And salmon sharks are very visual predators. They have huge, incredible, beautiful eyes.
And so I was like, this is it. If I've got a herring in one hand, and a pork chop in the other. And he goes, no, I'm not going to go for that herring. I'm going to go for the fatty pork chop. That's it. That's going to tell us they have a preference for mammal meat. And sure enough, I kind of let them go. Swam right at the pork chop as it flashed. Which I was like, this is it. Like time for the conclusion, you know what I mean. Went right by the pork chop and nailed the herring. And so just showed an undeniable lack of interest in the mammal meat.
LUKE TIPPLE: Yeah, and to get all of this going. To get this sort of frenzy going, you did have to start, basically, a mini-feeding frenzy with several of these salmon shark. I mean, it was actually pretty scary and incredible to watch. But let's check out the salmon sharks in full-on action around Forrest in the guys.
- To you right, Forrest. Second shark. To your right, second shark.
FORREST GALANTE: This has never been filmed. A second salmon shark is competing with me and the first shark for dominance to claim the bait. The first shark has now circled back around to take ownership. He's forcing the new shark to compete. He's taking the higher ground.
Shark behavior dictates that the most dominant shark is the highest up in the water column. This is salmon shark behavior that has never been captured on camera. Look at how the first shark has dropped lower to submit dominance to the second shark. They're competing right in front of me. And now they're both circling at the same level.
- They're both eating.
LUKE TIPPLE: OK, so you've got this feeding frenzy going. You've got more salmon sharks in the water than we know of other people being surrounded by. And in uncertain hunting conditions, trying to establish their behavior. What was their actual response to the bait stimulus like? Because it kind of looked to me like almost a cross between makos and blues or something. Where they just kind of like twitchy getting in and out. Not at all like a great white.
FORREST GALANTE: That's very good observation, Luke. I'd say that's a perfect way to sum it up. Like a mako, like a mackerel shark. They had that aggressive body language. That head down, kind of, I'm ready to go mentality.
But then, sort of like a blue shark, they had that sort of twitchy stand-offish nature. Where they'd be like, I'm going, I'm going. No, no, no, no, no, no, no, I'm going, I'm going. No, no, no, no, no, no. So they're really erratic behaviors that we were witnessing. Again, until they were really competing with each other.
And then it went from like I'm concerned. Me, being a shark, like I'm concerned for my own safety when I'm preying to, I'm just going to get the bait before my neighbor shark gets the bait. And that sort of, it's a term I don't like to use but, frenzy, if you will, of those salmon sharks really showed us behavior that I don't know if anybody has seen before, when they're in full competition with each other, trying to go for the bait. And it was amazing. I mean, honestly it was really amazing to see.
LUKE TIPPLE: Well, as you noted before, even if it has been selected for, to not have that behavior be the primary display of their behaviors. They still have to tap into that. So you might have been seeing what the fisherman, 20 years ago, were talking about. With the banging into boats and getting all crazy.
FORREST GALANTE: Well, sharks are still sharks, right? So we can sit here and say like they're great, they're cuddly, they're beautiful. But at the end of the day, there's still an apex predator that are the kings of their environment. Regardless, of their behavior, a shark is a shark. And if it wants to eat, you're going to have a hard time stopping it.
And that's what happened is these animals, as we say in the fishing world. They turned on, they switched on. And once they were on, there was no turning them off. And it was fantastic because--
So for anybody that doesn't know this, mako sharks and many other sharks in that family, they assert dominance by being closest to the food source. So the toughest, biggest, baddest shark is the one, typically when you're baiting sharks, closest to the surface. Because that's where the food is coming from.
And I didn't know if this was behavior that would be exhibited by salmon sharks or not. But as soon as they were competing with each other. And I was bobbing around on the surface with my way too many millimeters of neoprene being way too buoyant. They looked at me as a competitor for that food source.
And all of a sudden, they started posturing up on me, shouldering up on me, coming in closer, I'd like, more aggressive passes being like get out of the way. That's my food. And so there was this beautiful moment where myself and these two salmon sharks were doing this sort of dance of competition to be like who is the alpha in this environment.
And, of course, I wasn't willing to say I was. So I backed out and kind of submitted to them. And let them come in and eat the food. And it was truly amazing.
LUKE TIPPLE: In all the time that you spent working with the salmon sharks. I'm curious because they have the coloration and the capability and shape and everything else that we normally ascribe to some type of ambush attack type predator. Something that would stayed down low. Look for a shape on the surface. Come up and hit it. Did you see anything like that while you're up there?
FORREST GALANTE: Absolutely. And don't be fooled by me saying they're timid. They are still a very incredible--
LUKE TIPPLE: I'm thinking more about the attack mechanism, than the actual behavior. So if we're looking at them, as you say, comparing with a mako who assert dominance by being around on kind of on the surface. Whereas, a hunting behavior of a great white, at least, in certain regions. Using that ambush, they'd be down below, coming up and attacking. And you are in a big sort of fjord area, where you've got these natural ledges and shelves. So I'm just curious if you saw any of that?
FORREST GALANTE: What we saw is that they-- because their speed is unparalleled. I mean, even having been in the water with makos a number of times, it was incredible to see the way that the salmon shark moves. And how aquadynamic it is. So the behavior that we did see is that they would do this sort of surface interaction where they compete for bait. And then the submissive shark, not the dominant, not the alpha shark, would drop out and disappear. And then 10 seconds later you'd see it rocket up at 30, 40, 50 miles an hour to, basically, make an aggressive approach to see if you can push the other animals off.
And when you see that, you go, oh yeah, this thing could nail you, there's one moment when we slowed it way down in the show, because it happened so fast. But you see the shark come up. And you see the belly spots and everything right at me, and you know that slowed down 100 plus times because the speed at which that happened is absolutely insane. The whole thing happened in an instant. But when you slow it down for 4 TV so people can see it, you realize this like incredible form. And this incredible ambush behavior that you're talking about.
LUKE TIPPLE: So after all of this, you surmise that there has to be another species that is responsible for these mammal predations, right? And you're thinking great white shark?
FORREST GALANTE: That's correct, Luke. Yeah, I'm not typically the one to go there and come back from an expedition, going, yeah, I don't think we did it. But in this case, I don't think we did it. I went up there with the hypothesis that it was either the salmon shark or the sleeper shark. But between recording the sea surface temperatures, talking to fishermen, talking about the change in food resources, and the shifting environment.
My hypothesis, and this is backed up by several publications stating that this could be possible, is that we're seeing an actual shift. And that there's a new APEX predator in town. And the great white sharks, which historically, have not wanted to be in water as cold as the Prince William Sound, are actually moving up from Canada. All the way into Alaska.
And what we're seeing are the odd results of an unsuccessful hunt attempt by a cold great water shark on-- excuse me. By a cold great white shark, in cold water, on these marine mammals.
And so I actually think that, although it hasn't been filmed or properly documented, there could, indeed, be great white sharks in Alaska.
LUKE TIPPLE: Has there been any local mythology? And fishermen are always a great source of info for that. Has anybody seen one up there?
FORREST GALANTE: Well, what I found interesting is-- so they're not used to seeing great white sharks, right? You talk to a surfer in Southern California, and they go, yeah, yeah, great white sharks over there by San Jo, right? Up there, when I talk to the fishermen. They tell me of seeing a salmon shark that was 15-foot long.
Well, salmon sharks get to 7 feet, right? But they look exactly like a great white shark from the top down. So to me, when you start hearing stories of 15-foot long salmon sharks, that's your great white shark that's being misidentified. So that I think is where the line was blurred. Where people weren't 100% sure what it that was going on. Which made our investigation much more difficult.
LUKE TIPPLE: That definitely makes a lot of sense. It's certainly cold water for them, and they might be moving slower, as you say. But the world is a weird place. They could certainly be going up there. What's the plan in terms of seasonality? Do you just go when the water temperatures as warm as possible?
FORREST GALANTE: So I would like to return there. We were there in June, July. The water is much warmer in August, September, as summer goes on a little bit later. I would love to go up there that time of year. And see if we were able to actually track down great white sharks in the Prince William Sound.
There have been tagged sharks that have popped into Western Alaska waters. We've seen that on satellite data. But no one's ever filmed one up there, as far as I know. And we've certainly never seen any predatory behavior.
So really, we don't know what they're doing when they're up there. So I'd love to go back and sort of put a button on this question as to, is it the great white shark? And if so, how and why?
LUKE TIPPLE: And is that the plan for this year? I mean, that's coming right up. We're in summer already. Are your bags packed?
FORREST GALLANTE: Yeah, I mean, I have to talk to our friends at Discovery about that. But I'd love to go back and do it. I think that the show that we did was fantastic, in my opinion. As far as getting to have visuals of sharks that people rarely get to see. And interactions that people very rarely get to see.
So I think it would be very interesting to figure out a methodology in which we could go up into that same region. But actually work with great white sharks. And understand what they're doing up there. And I might need guys like you and ABC for that because I don't know if I've got all the capabilities for that.
LUKE TIPPLE: Dude, game on, for sure. Well, speaking of that. Maybe I can start putting my mind to it. But I mean, one of the things I really like about watching your show and your crew. And everything you put together is you guys, usually, extremely well prepared for what you're going into.
There's a lot of thought that goes into the safety protocols, the equipment. everything from BRUVs through to the neoprene, and stuff that you're wearing. So having gone up there, having spent so much long. What would you do differently in going up to do a great white expedition?
FORREST GALANTE: Yeah, I think that if we were to go up again, and do a great white expedition. We'd need to figure out where those animals are coming from. So we went to the Prince William Sound because that was the heart of the reported attack, right?
In hindsight, or rather, if I were to do it again, I think the better way to do it would be find some of these North traveling white sharks and follow them. Follow them up from Oregon, Washington, Canada, and all the way into Alaska.
See where they're stopping, why they're stopping, and when they're stopping. And try and understand what behavior would actually lead a great white shark to going into Alaska. It's like if I said to you, Luke. It's like if I said to you, well you can get a pizza next door, and it's a great pizza. Or you can walk to the Arctic and grab yourself a nice tasty cold pizza. Like why are you doing it. Why are you going all the way to the Arctic for that cold slice of Domino's.
And so that's kind of the big question that's left in my mind is like why? There's plenty of marine mammals in the lower 48. There's plenty of marine mammals in British Columbia and Canada. Why go all the way up there. And I think that's a fascinating question that needs answering.
LUKE TIPPLE: So what is the next expedition for you? What are you packing your bags for? Because you're always on land, sea, or somewhere. So it's rare to see you in your office.
FORREST GALANTE: I know, it really is. I take off on Sunday, again. I've got an expedition into the Ozarks, a North American one. Which is also, typically, pretty rare for me. And we're working in the Ozarks on an incredible legend that I think has the potential to be a case of mistaken identity for an extremely rare, edge of extinction type of animal. So we're off to dig into that next.
LUKE TIPPLE: Any clues? Does it have legs? Like what? Give us something.
FORREST GALANTE: How's this for a clue? People at night, and this may tell you the answer, and it may not, have heard this mysterious creature giving one of these. "Ar ar aroo" So that's why they give it the name of the Ozark howler. And I think I have a very good indication of what it could be.
LUKE TIPPLE: Got it. Well, we'll, leave the people at home to answer that one for themselves. Or tune in to his next show. But hey, Forest, man. Thanks so much for your time. I know that you're a busy guy.
And everyone at home, you've got to see this show. It's amazing. The visuals are stunning. And Alaska. I mean, what better place to find sharks, right? That's your Daily Bite. Thank you so much for joining us. Subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. I'll see you on the next Daily Bite. But until then, happy Shark Week.