Mediterranean Great White Sharks: Evolution’s Biggest Wrong Turn?

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Getty Images/Stuart Westmorland

Getty Images/Stuart Westmorland

How has the Mediterranean great white shark contributed to globalization? By migration of course!

The BBC reports that researchers from the University of Aberdeen discovered that the genus Carcharoden carcharias joined the inter-species trend 450,000 years ago by comparing the DNA of great whites in the Mediterranean with great whites in the Atlantic and Australia.

To their surprise they found that, genetically, the Mediterranean great white has more in common with the Aussies where they were previously thought to have more in common with the Atlantic great whites due to their global location. (Read more in Shark Attack Victims Now Sharks’ Biggest Advocates.)

The team believes that at some point between the ice ages, confused by the drastically altered temperatures in ocean currants and the fluctuating climate, pregnant females took a migratory “wrong turn” through the Strait of Gibraltar to birth.

Evolutionary biologists believe that the females were likely to have been swept off course by an unfamiliar and strong ocean current while they lingered near a breeding area off the coast of South Africa and, in a bid to swim east to return to Australia, entered the Strait of Gibraltar. (Learn more in A Closer Look At Sharks.)

As sharks give birth to live young, the offspring of the confused mothers would have recognized the Mediterranean as home. Some of these pups may have returned to birth their own pups and in doing so, developed a colony of great whites in the area with their genetic lineage as descendants of the Australasian great white. (Take a look at TIME’s Top 10 Killer-Animal Movies.)

This discovery has been hailed as “seriously fascinating” by Ken Collins of the National Oceanography Center, maybe with a twinge of hope that us poor land dwellers, even with badly planned routes and misleading directions from Sat Nav systems, could never make such a “wrong turn”.