Massive great white shark is largest ever tagged off Australian coast

This photo has been circulating over the past couple of weeks, ever since it was snapped off the coast of southwest Australia, and with good reason ... the great white shark in the photo is huge, over 5 metres long, making it one of the largest sharks in the world!

This great white — dubbed 'Joan of Shark' — was captured off King George Sound, near the southwest tip of Australia on March 30. According to the Newcastle Herald, it took three staff members from Western Australia's Department of Fisheries over two-and-a-half hours to reel her in, however this wasn't a trophy catch or part of the shark culls going on in other parts of the Australian coast. Once the team had her up alongside the boat, they worked quickly, taking roughly five minutes to roll her over so that she was upside-down — a position that puts the shark into a sleep-like state called 'tonic immobility' — put a small incision in her abdomen, insert an internal electronic tag, then sew her back up and let her go.

"In a sense the shark basically goes to sleep, which enables our technical officers to do a small surgical procedure to implant an acoustic tag inside the shark's gut cavity," Mark Kleeman, the project manager for the department's Shark Monitoring Network, told Australia's ABC News.

Measurements taken while she was undergoing surgery put her at 5.04 metres from her nose to the fork in her tail, with the rest of her tail likely bringing her up to total length of around 5.3 metres. At that size, and given her girth, they estimated that she would tip the scales at over 1.6 tons. That doesn't make her the largest great white in the world, since that title goes to either a 6-metre-long specimen caught near Prince Edward Island in 1988 or one over 7-metres long caught off the coast of Malta in 1987 (although that one's length may have been exaggerated).

However, she is one of the largest great white sharks in the world, the largest great white ever tagged in the waters off Australia, and the largest ever to receive an internal tag, which will send signals for around 10 years.

"This is very exciting and potentially a world first," Kleeman told the Newcastle Herald. "It is something we have been striving for and it is great to prove we can handle an animal of that size."

"The main thing is that tracking larger animals opens up a whole new world," Kleeman added. "Lots of juveniles have been tagged, but to have a fully-mature female and get 10 years of data out of it is a big thing for us. We are excited by the potential of what this shark can give us."

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This tagging program is a great alternative to the shark culling that's been making the news lately, and it's already paid off with Joan. The network of electronic tag monitors in the waters along the coastline have been keeping Fisheries staff informed of her whereabouts, and they've been able to close the beaches she's been swimming near in response. This keeps the public safe, but it also prevents the needless killing of these incredible creatures, while allowing us to learn more and gain a better understanding of them over time.

(Photos courtesy: Department of Fisheries West Australia)

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