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April 21, 2018  |  Login

Great White Shark
Carcharodon carcharias

What Are They Like?

The largest predatory fish in the world, great white sharks are awesome ocean-dwelling carnivores whose biology has remained virtually unchanged for tens of millions of years. The great white shark grows to an average of 15 feet (4.6 meters) long, and can weigh up to 5,000 pounds (2,268 kilograms). They have a white underside and a grey dorsal area. They are torpedo-shaped, which helps them maintain speeds of up to 15 miles (24 kilometers) per hour when swimming. Their jaws, justly famous, adjust to fit the size of prey; the shark pushes its jaws with razor-sharp teeth forward to take hold of prey, and then shakes its head from side to side, sawing off large chunks of flesh.

Where Do They Live?

Great white sharks are highly migratory, swimming in almost all coastal and offshore waters of the world, with the exception of polar oceans. They favor coastal areas that have colonies of marine mammals, particularly elephant seals (one of their favorite foods) and sea lions. In North America, great white sharks can be found from Newfoundland to Florida, and from Alaska to southern Mexico. One of the largest concentrations of great white sharks can be found around Dyer Island, South Africa, where much of the world’s shark research is conducted.

Did You Know?
These sharks are what is known as an “apex” predator; they are located at the top of the marine food chain, and have no natural enemies. Humans are the great white shark’s only predator.

How Are Babies Made?

Great white sharks are “ovoviviparous”—that is, eggs are retained within the body of the female shark in a brood chamber where the embryo develops, receiving nourishment from a yolk sac. A baby shark’s powerful jaws begin to develop in the first month. After a period that may be longer than a year, between 2-10 baby sharks, or pups, hatch from the egg capsules inside the mother's uterus and swim away from her soon afterward. Stronger pups sometimes consume their weaker womb-mates. Once they emerge from their mother’s body, the pups swim away without any maternal care.

What Do They Eat?

Adult great white sharks are fearsome predators capable of eating large marine mammals such as elephant seals, sea lions, dolphins, porpoises, small-toothed whales, sea otters and sea turtles. They also eat the carcasses of dead animals that they find floating in the ocean. Young great white sharks eat fish, rays and other sharks until they have grown enough to handle larger prey.

Did You Know?
A Great white shark has 300 sharp teeth, including rows of serrated spare teeth that are located behind the main ones, ready to replace any that break off.

What Do They Do?

When a shark attacks a sea lion, seal or other marine animal, it will lie in wait near the ocean floor, camouflaged by its grey upper body. When it sees, smells or senses prey in the water above, the shark will rush upward at great speed to ram and stun the unsuspecting prey while at the same time taking a large bite. After the animal bleeds to death, sharks will return to feed on the remaining flesh. Despite what sensational media stories and movies like “Jaws” would have us believe, people are not generally on the menu for great white sharks—at least not intentionally. When these creatures do attack a person, it is usually because they mistake thrashing arms or dangling feet as prey, dart in, bite, and let go when they realize it's not a fish or a seal.

How Concerned Should We Be?

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has a “Red List” of species in danger globally and listed the great white shark as “vulnerable.” Rather than being a danger to humans, great white sharks—and many other sharks—are endangered by humans. The illegal trade in shark teeth and jaws on the black market is a continuing problem, spurred by the shark’s mythic reputation as a celebrated and fearsome killer. Another major threat to the species is overfishing, encouraged by the Asian taste for shark-fin soup. Many sharks are accidentally killed each year as “bycatch”—the unintended victims of long-line commercial fishing trawlers and gill nets, which snare sharks along with the intended catch.

What's Being Done?

Conservation groups are working to protect great white sharks and other endangered shark species by advocating for worldwide bans on shark finning. Many organizations are also working with government agencies that regulate commercial fishing to reduce wasteful "bycatch." If they are successful, improved fishing practices could benefit not only great white sharks, but many other endangered marine species as well.


Great White Shark

Surfer Films Great White Shark Just Feet Away!

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