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Mississippi State researchers aid in documented sighting of Great White off Alabama coast

The juvenile Great White was named “Miss Pawla” in honor of one of South Alabama’s mascots. Mississippi State University aided in the survey. (Photo courtesy of USA)

A documented sighting of a Great White shark has happened off the coast of Alabama and not without the help of researchers from Mississippi State University.

Teams from the University of South Alabama, Mississippi State, and Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Institute worked together to capture video of the juvenile female shark coming in at approximately eight feet long.

Researchers decided to name the Great White “Miss Pawla” after first spotting her in mid-April. 10 days later, she was still roaming the waters of Alabama before departing this past Friday. According to a release from USA, Miss Pawla is somewhere around 15 years old and won’t be fully developed until she’s at least 30. Female Great Whites can live to over 50 and grow up to 16 feet long.

Great White sightings in the Gulf of Mexico are usually uncommon but recent reports – including one caught by fishermen in March 2023 and another washing up dead on a Florida Panhandle beach – have experts debating whether Great Whites are evolving to move into the area. Miss Pawla was spotted in approximately 150 feet of water at Alabama’s artificial reef zone and is the first known sighting at that specific reef recorded by scientists.

“We have surveyed over 1,000 artificial and natural reef areas over the last 10 years, providing scientific data to assist the state of Alabama in managing its offshore fisheries,” Dr. Sean Powers, director of USA’s Stokes School of Marine and Environmental Sciences, said. “This is our first documented sighting of a white shark.”

Funding for the survey was provided by the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium and Alabama’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Division of Marine Resources.

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