California

Woman poses next to a great white shark. It was science, not a 'selfie,' biologist says

Critics say a photo of a woman beside a dead great white shark found dead last summer on an Aptos, Calif., beach disrespects the animal, but marine biologist Giancarlo Thomae, who shot the photo, says his colleague posed beside the shark for scale.
Critics say a photo of a woman beside a dead great white shark found dead last summer on an Aptos, Calif., beach disrespects the animal, but marine biologist Giancarlo Thomae, who shot the photo, says his colleague posed beside the shark for scale. Giancarlo Thomae Photography

A marine biologist investigating the body of a great white shark washed up Sunday on a California beach didn’t think twice about asking a colleague to pose next to the carcass.

Giancarlo Thomae said he snapped a photo of the shark, found in Aptos, California, using the woman to provide scale while they awaited other colleagues with more equipment.

“We got down there because the tide was running in,” Thomae said, adding he was concerned about the shark’s body washing out to sea before it could be properly investigated.

But Thomae wasn’t prepared for what happened when TV station KSBW posted the photo on Facebook — readers called the photo disrespectful.

While conducting a white shark field survey in Monterey Bay, the founder of the Pelagic Shark Research Foundation, Sean Van Summeran, saw a frightened deer being circled by what appeared to be an adolescent great white shark.

"This could not be more messed up ... A dead shark is not a photo op,” wrote one person.

“This was once a living being and it's just ok to lay next to it smiling? This is appalling aaaannnnnd i'm angry. Justice needs to be had,” read another comment.

“That photo is just creepy and disrespectful,” wrote one person. "Taking selfies really? Have some Effing RESPECT! Don't care if she's a 'scientist' it's tasteless," read another comment.

Thomae said the photo wasn’t taken for fun and wasn’t intended to be disrespectful.

“As a biologist and a nature-lover, it makes me happy that people care so much about wildlife,” Thomae said. “I’m sorry if my photo offended anyone, but we just needed scale for reference.”

Thomae said he and his colleagues managed to move the 500-pound shark, which measured 8-foot-9, farther up the beach out of reach of the tide, then later loaded it onto a vehicle for transport to a necropsy, or animal autopsy.

The shark had several scars and more recent wounds from encounters with sea lions, on which great white sharks feed, but Thomae said he doesn’t think those caused its death.

“This was a big, healthy shark,” he said. “Those were like cat scratches.”

Thomae said he suspects a carnobacterium infection in the shark’s brain, but a final cause of death won’t be known until after the necropsy.

While on patrol off of San Mateo County, the CHP Helicopter H-30 crew encountered what appeared to be a Great White Shark swimming approximately 100 yards off of the Pacifica Pier.

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