Scientists discover great white shark 'queen of the ocean'

This huge great white shark, named Nukumi, is probably about 50 years old. She was discovered off the coast of Nova Scotia.
This huge great white shark, named Nukumi, is probably about 50 years old. She was discovered off the coast of Nova Scotia. (Image credit: OCEARCH)

Marine biologists have discovered an enormous great white shark they're calling the "queen of the ocean" off the coast of Nova Scotia. 

The battle-scarred shark (Carcharodon carcharias) is 17 feet (5 meters) long and weighs in at 3,541 pounds (1,606 kilograms). She's likely 50 years old, said scientists with the marine animal tracking nonprofit OCEARCH. 

"When you look at all the healed-over scars and blotches and things that are on her skin, you're really looking at the story of her life, and it makes you feel really insignificant," OCEARCH expedition leader Chris Fischer said in a video posted on Facebook Saturday (Oct. 3). 

Related: Image gallery: Mysterious lives of whale sharks

The researchers nicknamed the shark Nukumi (pronounced "noo-goo-mee"), after a legendary wise grandmother figure from the Native American Mi'kmaq people, whose ancestral lands include Nova Scotia. 

Expedition scientists also posted a brief video of the shark being fitted with tracking tags and submitting to a blood draw aboard the research vessel M/V OCEARCH. The researchers are on a month-long expedition near the Nova Scotia coast to tag great whites and take biological samples to better understand the shark population's health and migrations through the North Atlantic. As of Monday (Oct. 2), the expedition had tagged nine female great white sharks, NBC News reported.

Great white sharks can live up to 70 years. Nukumi probably had her first litter 30 years ago, Fischer said, making her at least a grandmother by now. She has likely reproduced around 15 times in her life, he said in another video posted on OCEARCH's Facebook page; that means she could have had as many as 100 offspring in her lifetime. (Great white shark reproduction is still very mysterious, but females pregnant with as many as 14 pups have been recorded.)

"She would be a proper, true matriarch of the ocean, a grandmother of sharks," Fischer said. 

Marine biologists will compare Nukumi's blood chemistry to samples from juvenile and smaller adults, Fischer said. They also had the chance to use a portable ultrasound to get imagery of the shark matriarch's organs. It's rare to get an opportunity to study such an old and large shark, Fischer said. 

Nukumi's size puts her among the largest great whites on record. Most female great whites are about 15 to 16 feet (4.6 to 4.9 m) long, according to National Geographic, but individuals such as the famous "Deep Blue" can reach almost 20 feet (6 m).

Originally published on Live Science.

Stephanie Pappas
Live Science Contributor

Stephanie Pappas is a contributing writer for Live Science, covering topics ranging from geoscience to archaeology to the human brain and behavior. She was previously a senior writer for Live Science but is now a freelancer based in Denver, Colorado, and regularly contributes to Scientific American and The Monitor, the monthly magazine of the American Psychological Association. Stephanie received a bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of South Carolina and a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz.