Genetic techniques are a relatively new way to study these animals and are very cost effective. This program started in 2000, jointly run with Australia to compare DNA of sharks between the two continents to establish whether they are the same sharks (see the article published by Pardini et al. 2001 in Nature).
Since then Shark Diving Unlimited utilized all their skills and equipment to take the Department of Environmental Affairs: Branch – Oceans and Coasts, Republic of South Africa, out to sea once a month to conduct DNA sampling.
To collect a DNA sample we need to take a skin biopsy from the white sharks with a sterilized biopsy sampler at the end of a 2m long pole (see the video here and the Genetic Research Photogallery)
In 2011 MSc Sara Andreotti (Marine Biologist) started her PhD project at Stellenbosch University of South Africa in cooperation with the Department of Environmental Affairs (Research Permit RES2011/55; RES2012/38 and RES2013/41) to identify individual great white sharks using a combined morphological and genetic approach.
PhD title: “Evolutionary behavioural genetics and population structure of the Great White Shark, Charcharodon charcharias L.” See the details in Stellenbosch University website http://academic.sun.ac.za/botzoo/andreotti/
The results obtained in 2001 by Pardini et al. showed the necessity of a more comprehensive genetic work, to better assess the population structure and health of white sharks in South Africa, for this reason the genetic project was extended to the entire South African coastline. The field work for Sara’s Project has been fully sponsored since the beginning by Michael Rutzen and Shark Diving Unlimited.
Thanks to the photo-identification program we can avoid to sample the same sharks twice. From the beginning of the Project thanks to the effort and support of Shark Diving Unlimited team roughly 200 individual sharks were sampled around South African coastline.
The results of this extensive work will help to comprehensively study the ecology, movement and life history of individual members of this species (see an article upon the first sampling trip on the West Coast on Stellenbosch University website: http://blogs.sun.ac.za/news/2012/02/16/wanted-help-with-great-white-shark-sightings/ ).