Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

A great white shark, seen here swimming near Isla Guadalupe off the coast of Baja California del Norte, Mexico. (Photo: pterantula/Flickr/cc)

A great white shark swims among a school of fish in the Pacific Ocean near Isla Guadalupe, Baja California del Norte, Mexico. (Photo: pterantula/Flickr/cc) 

Study Finds Climate Crisis Driving Great White Sharks Into Colder Waters, With Devastating Effect on Wildlife

"Climate change is scrambling our ocean ecosystems and sometimes it produces surprises with a whole lot of teeth," said one marine researcher.

Brett Wilkins

Warming oceans—a key measure of the climate crisis—are forcing great white sharks into colder waters, where they are causing a devastating decrease in wildlife populations, according to new research reported Tuesday by The Guardian

"The sharks are not the problem—climate change is the problem."
—Kyle Van Houtan
Monterey Bay Aquarium

The study, led by researchers at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California and published in Scientific Reports, found that unprecedented sightings of juvenile great white sharks in the northern part of Monterey Bay prove a lack of suitable thermal habitat is driving the predatory fish into waters that were previously too cold for them. 

Record ocean heating, including a 2014-2016 Pacific heatwave, has pushed young sharks to move more than 370 miles northward along the California coast since 2014. Between 1982 and 2013, the northernmost limit of juvenile great whites' range was near Santa Barbara, over 200 miles south of Montery Bay. After the heatwave, their range shifted as far north as Bodega Bay, about 330 miles north of Santa Barbara. 

The study found that great white predation of sea otters in Monterey Bay has led to an alarming 86% drop in the mammals' population there, threatening decades of efforts to conserve the threatened species.  

"White sharks aren't just another species—they're an apex predator and all eyes are on them in the ocean," Kyle Van Houtan of the Monterey Bay Aquarium told The Guardian. "The sharks are not the problem—climate change is the problem."

"The sharks are telling us that the ocean is changing," said Van Houtan, "and it's now time for us to do something about it."

Van Houtan said in a statement that "we need to act on climate change and reduce our reliance on fossil fuels."

Chris Lowe, a co-author of the study and director of the Shark Lab at California State University, Long Beach, said that the researchers' findings are "what many biologists have expected to see as the result of climate change and rising ocean temperatures."

"Frankly, I'll be surprised if we don't see this northerly shift across more species," he said. 

Van Houtan concurred, noting that global heating is pushing many species toward the poles and that "what we've detected here is just a harbinger of much broader patterns."

Professor Malin Pinksy of Rutgers University in New Jersey called the study—in which he did not participate—"a particularly attention-grabbing example of the mass movement of marine life that's happening off our coasts right now, involving everything from mangroves to cod."

The presence of great white sharks in colder waters is also raising concerns about dangerous encounters with humans. Lasy May, a surfer was killed by one off the coast of Santa Cruz County in an area covered by the study, although researchers note that overall, California shark attacks have plummeted in recent decades. 

"I've seen sharks right under surfers, just a few feet away," Chris Gularte, chief pilot with the Watsonville-based tour company Specialized Helicopters, told the Mercury News in San Jose. "When the water is warm and they come in the bay, you can see them swim near people all day long. Standup paddlers and kayakers will go right up to them and not realize they are there."

Indeed, Pinsky said that "climate change is scrambling our ocean ecosystems and sometimes it produces surprises with a whole lot of teeth."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

Biden-Backed Aukus Deal Could Spell 'Disaster' for Climate Cooperation With China

One U.K. lawmaker said reaching a "positive outcome" at the upcoming talks in Glasgow "just got a whole lot harder."

Jon Queally ·



Exclusive: Jared Kushner's Family Firm Set to Unleash Eviction Wave Amid Pandemic

"Kushner is the poster child for ultra-rich landlords clamoring to boost their bottom line by kicking families to the curb, even if it comes at the expense of public health."

Jake Johnson ·


Patient Group Targets Pair of Democrats for 'Selling Us Out to Drug Companies'

"It makes me so angry that members of Congress are choosing Big Pharma over patients. It's unforgivable."

Jake Johnson ·


Judge Blocks Biden From Continuing 'Inhumane' Trump Policy to Deport Families

"This is not the end of the battle against this practice," said one rights group, "but it is a major step to ensure that the U.S. welcomes these asylum-seeking families—as we should."

Jessica Corbett ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo