For as much time we spend thinking about great white sharks as the apex predator of the wide open ocean, we don't actually know that much about them. They're surprisingly elusive, especially when it comes to reproduction. But several studies looking at young white sharks have confirmed an area between New Jersey and Long Island — called the New York Bight — where 1-year-olds spend a whole lot of time. That makes this particular stretch of ocean a white shark "nursery."
A team of scientists released a study in July 2018 of their results from tracking 10 sharks less than a year old. They discovered the sharks stayed in the New York Bight area during the summer months in water less than 50 meters deep. That was enough to confirm the area as a nursery.
For an area to be considered a nursery, it must meet three criteria, according to the scientists: sharks less than a year old frequent an area more than other surrounding areas, they use the area repeatedly for years and they live in the area for extended periods of time during the year.
"It is vital that these baby white sharks reach maturity to ensure a stable and abundant future for this important apex predator," said Matt Ajemian, an assistant research professor at Florida Atlantic University's Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, in a university news release. "The multi-tagging approach that we used provides us with a 4D view of their habitats in space and time that will help us to monitor and manage this critically important species."
This study isn't the first one to track young sharks in this area. In 2016, a team of scientists also tagged several newborn sharks to study their movements and determine if they would stay in the area for an extended period of time.
"The tracking confirms they’re in fact hanging around this area, feeding and growing," he said.
Scientists not affiliated with the project say the waters around Montauk Point as well as those as far north as Cape Cod and as far south as New Jersey have long been considered part of a regional white shark nursery.
The news is more a confirmation than a discovery. Even so, knowing for certain where young sharks are spending a significant amount of time is important for both science and conservation.
"I think the most noteworthy findings are yet to come, as we follow the tracks of these white sharks over the next several years," Tobey Curtis, a shark scientist with NOAA Fisheries, told Business Insider. "These are the first baby white sharks to be tagged in the North Atlantic and we have no idea what to expect."
No researchers have documented a white shark mating or giving birth. While we may know some areas where yearling sharks hang out, the adult part of reproduction remains a mystery.
Editor's note: This article has been updated since it was originally published in October 2016.