Giant 21ft great white shark named Deep Blue spotted off coast of Hawaii

A shark said to be 'Deep Blue', one of the largest recorded individuals, swims offshore Hawaii - REUTERS
A shark said to be 'Deep Blue', one of the largest recorded individuals, swims offshore Hawaii - REUTERS

It was the opportunity of a lifetime: the chance for a team of divers to photograph themselves alongside Deep Blue, the notorious great white shark

But, in the words of one commentator, the resulting headline could easily have read: "stupid human dies chasing a 20ft shark". 

The female, one of the largest sharks ever recorded, was photographed feasting on a dead sperm whale nine miles off the coast of Oahu, a Hawaiian island. 

It is only the third ever sighting of Deep Blue, who was last spotted in Mexico in 2013, and is estimated to be around 20 ft long and weigh 2.5 tonnes. 

The divers stumbled upon her while looking for tiger sharks in the area earlier this week and were quick to photograph themselves swimming alongside the great white. 

The shark was last seen in 2013 off the coast of Mexico - Credit: @JuanSharks/@OceanRamsey/Juan Oliphant/oneoceandiving.com via REUTERS
The shark was last seen in 2013 off the coast of Mexico Credit: @JuanSharks/@OceanRamsey/Juan Oliphant/oneoceandiving.com via REUTERS

Deep Blue is estimated to be up to 50 years old and is something of a celebrity in the world of shark enthusiasts - she even has her own Twitter account and featured in an episode of Shark Week. 

However, researchers warn that establishing the shark's exact size is difficult, and highlight the fact that three very large females have been spotted in the area over consecutive days. 

Michael Domeier and Nicole Nasby-Lucas from the Marine Conservation Science Institute led the research project that first documented Deep Blue in 1999. 

The pair told the Telegraph that unique pigment patterns confirmed that the shark photographed this week was Deep Blue. 

A shark said to be 'Deep Blue', one of the largest recorded individuals, swims offshore Hawaii, U.S., on January 15
Deep Blue is believed to be up to 50 years old

They added that Deep Blue, who may live until around the age of 70, is very likely pregnant at the moment and could give birth off the coast of Baja, Mexico or California in the spring. 

Great whites are a rare sight in Hawaii but Ms Nasby-Lucas said the institute has tracked another large female, Murphy Jean, heading to the islands recently. 

"This is a unique opportunity to see them feeding on a dead whale," she said, adding this appeared to be the "closest anyone has got to Deep Blue without a cage".

However the research biologist warned of the dangers that touching sharks poses to divers. "The bigger females like that are obviously there to feed and some of the smaller sharks are a little more dangerous because they don't know who you are. 

"But it's still dangerous and there are photos of them touching the shark, I don't approve of that. Obviously this isn't your amateur dive, but it's nothing I would recommend." 

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One of the divers, Kimberly Jeffries, said she was working with scientists to get an accurate size measurement of Deep Blue based on her pictures.

"Yes absolutely there are risks involved in diving with any wild animals," she told The Telegraph. "In this particular situation I was with scientists and we went out anticipating large marine predators so we were properly prepared but it is not an activity that I would recommend for everyone.

"I’m a professional diver and wildlife photographer with a lot of experience in the water with large apex predators, human and not. Sharks did not intentionally seek out humans for consumption but they are large powerful prayers and they should be afforded that respect."

Another one of the divers, Ocean Ramsey, told the Honolulu Star Advertiser: "She was just this big beautiful gentle giant wanting to use our boat as a scratching post. We went out at sunrise, and she stayed with us pretty much throughout the day." 

Ms Ramsey cautioned against swimming anywhere where sharks were feeding but told the newspaper sharks would only attack humans if they were curious or if they mistook people for their normal prey. 

The diver hit out at critics on Instagram, writing in a post: "I know some people criticise touch but what some don’t realize is that sometimes sharks seek touch." 

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She added: "It’s not petting sharks or pushing them off to maintain a respectable space that is hurting sharks... it’s the wasteful and cruel practice of grabbing and catching sharks to cut off their fins". 

Speaking to Mother Board, George Burgess, a former professor at the University of Florida, warned: “Most of the time, that shark won’t turn around and bite you”. 

“But when it does, you’ll end up as a statistic on the International Shark Attack File, and the news headline won’t be ‘Stupid human dies chasing a 20 foot shark’, it will be ‘Shark kills human’, and that activity is very bad for conservation efforts.” 

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