Deep Blue & Haole Girl
In the novel Jaws by Peter Benchley, the great white shark that terrorizes Amity Island in New York is approximately 20 feet long. For the film version, Steven Spielberg created an animatronic beast they dubbed Bruce, who reached 25 feet in length. As the sequels rolled in over the years, the sharks (mostly) became longer and longer, until the shark nicknamed Brucetta in Jaws 3 ballooned to an astonishing 35 feet.
As is usually the case, the novel is closest to reality. On average, the largest great whites reach a length of 15 or 16 feet and weigh 1,500 to 2,500 pounds. The longest preserved specimen measures 19.1 feet and likely weighed more than 4,400 pounds. So, while the star of the novel would have been a record-setting shark, it wasn’t portrayed beyond the realm of possibility; after all, it was supposed to be an abnormally large shark.
In the past decade, however, scientists have snared footage of a couple of great whites that place the novel’s shark directly within the world of the possible. However realistic, Peter Benchley might have gotten one key aspect of this behemoth wrong.
Interestingly, great white sharks display sexual dimorphism, which means the sexes of a species exhibit different morphological characteristics. In the case of great whites, this fact presents in the size of the sexes. All the biggest sharks are female! The average size of the largest sharks cited above pertains only to females. The males, on the other hand, reach significantly shorter lengths, usually between 11 and 13 feet.
In the novel, the man-eating shark is a male, which would mean it was significantly larger than the largest known male specimens.
About 130 miles off Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula sits Guadalupe Island. This location is one of the world’s best for spotting great white sharks, as it attracts loads of seals, which sharks love to munch. So many great whites congregate off this island that researchers flock there to study them and thrill-seeking tourists utilize cages to get personal views of the giants.
In 2013, while inside a cage near Guadalupe Island, shark researcher Mauricio Hoyos encountered a behemoth great white. This individual later became known as Deep Blue. A video of Hoyos gained worldwide renown, due not only to the size of Deep Blue but also the crazy guts displayed by Hoyos. He felt the shark becoming too personal with the cage, so he exited it and attempted to push her away!
Based on measurements by Hoyos and others, Deep Blue is about 20 feet long and somewhere in the vicinity of 4,400 pounds. She was also pregnant! Great white sharks can live to be 70 years old; researchers believed Deep Blue to be in the range of 50 at the time of the video.
If the measurements held up – it’s difficult to ascertain accurately in the wild – Deep Blue would be one of the largest great white sharks ever encountered, if not the absolute largest.
She graced Discovery’s Shark Week in 2014 before disappearing into the depths of the Pacific.
In 2019, a massive great white materialized off the shores of Oahu, feasting on a whale carcass. Based on the size of the shark, researchers surmised it was Deep Blue. Though 2,500 miles separate Hawaii and Guadalupe Island, sharks are known to migrate vast distances.
If the video from Hoyos impressed you, wait until you see the footage of free diver and conservationist Ocean Ramsey frolicking with the shark in Oahu.
Based on markings, some shark experts now believe the Oahu great white was not Deep Blue. They dubbed this individual Haole Girl. Haole is a Hawaiian word for non-local, denoting the likely alien status of the shark. Best guesses put the Hawaiian shark in the same size league as Deep Blue, about 20 feet long. Haole Girl was also likely pregnant.
The reaction to the incredible video and photographs of Ocean Ramsey was as mixed as they come. Some praised the gorgeous, stunning imagery for its ability to display the non-aggression of sharks, which might aid in the conservation of the animals. Others took the opposite view, worrying that this sort of behavior from an expert might lead the uninitiated to the idea that anyone can swim and touch great whites.
Watching the video simultaneously produces reactions of great awe and intense vertigo in this viewer. I’m struck by the contrast between Jaws and Ocean Ramsey. One taps into the deep fears of humanity, worrying about the monsters we cannot see, control, or defeat. The other cozies up to immense machines that could chomp her in seconds, yet she displays calmness and basks in the glory of the being. I’ll be in the middle, rooting for the continued existence of sharks, but always keeping the cage between me and Deep Blue.
Further Reading and Exploration
Why You Should Know Who Deep Blue Is – Cape Radd
These Divers Swam With A Giant Great White Shark And It’s Jaw-Dropping – BuzzFeedNews
A Huge Great White Shark Controversy – Undercurrent