- A-Z Animals
The great white shark, also commonly referred to as great white, white shark, or white pointer, is currently the largest predatory shark. They are known for their long migration patterns as well as their breaching behavior, where they leap out of water to hunt prey.
As one of the “Big Three” sharks, along with the Tiger and Bull sharks, they are responsible for the highest number of attacks on humans. However, these sharks are not natural man-eaters and only interact with humans out of curiosity or mistake.
Size: Length: Males: 11 to 13 ft (3.4 to 4.0 m) Females: 15 to 16 ft (4.6 to 4.9 m)
Weight: Males: 1,151–1,700 lb (522–771 kg) Females: 1,500–2,450 lb (680–1,110 kg)
Teeth: They have around 300 teeth in their jaws, serrated and triangular. New teeth tend to grow back quickly to replace old ones.
Fins: Other than the characteristic dorsal fin present on the back of these sharks, they have a second smaller dorsal fin closer to their tail. They even have two pectoral fins, a single pelvic and anal fin, and a caudal tail fin.
Eyes: Their eyes, that appear larger than their body tend to be deep blue as opposed to black.
Body and Coloration: Females tend to be much larger than males. Their overall body is shaped like a torpedo with a blunt, conical snout.
Great whites have a counter-shaded appearance, with a white underside and gray upper region. This gives the shark an overall mottled appearance.
Notably, high population concentrations of great whites occur in Chile, Japan, Oceania, South Africa, the United States (Northeast and California), and the Mediterranean, including the Sea of Marmara and Bosphorus. One of the densest known populations of these sharks are seen around South Africa’s Dyer Island.
These sharks thrive in offshore and coastal waters, with a temperature range around 54- 75 °F.
Great white sharks, being carnivores have a voracious appetite and feed on dolphins, fish, porpoises, rays, seals, sea lions, sea otters, sea turtles, small whales, some sea birds, tuna, and even other sharks. Seals appear to be the most preferred diet of these sharks as they are rich in fat and provide energy to help them swim.
The great white has a long lifespan, with a 2014 study indicating that they live for around 70 years or more.
Do They Attack Humans
While the great white shark holds the record for the highest number of unprovoked attacks on humans, these attacks seem to be out of a combination of the creature’s natural inquisitiveness and their rather poor eyesight. From below, a human on a surfboard does not look to dissimilar to a seal from a shark’s point of view. Humans are not preferred prey for sharks due to their low-fat content compared to seals; however, a bite may lead to death due to blood loss due to the sheer bite force of a shark’s jaws. Juveniles are the most common attackers, owing to their lack of experience.
Great whites have been known to attack and even capsize boats as a result of being confused by the generated electric fields.
As apex predators, they have almost no natural predators. However, killer whales have been known to attack and devour the livers of these sharks. Whether this is because of feeding purposes or dietary overlap is still debated.
Very little is known about this shark’s mating habits, though it is assumed that males impregnate females by inserting their claspers into her cloaca. The fertilized eggs develop further inside the mother’s womb, and go on to eat the unfertilized eggs as nourishment, in a process known as oophagy.
After gestating for 11 months, female great whites give live birth to 2-12 baby sharks, that leave their mother immediately so that they can begin fending for themselves. These juveniles develop their jaws within a month of their birth, though it takes a long time for them to reach sexual maturity. Females do so at 33 years, while males become sexually mature at 26 years.
The IUCN puts the great white shark in the “Vulnerable” or “VU” category, though this is primarily because the exact population numbers remain unknown. A study performed by Barbara Block of Stanford University in 2010 indicated that there were 3500 individuals in the wild, while a study done by George H. Burgess of the Florida Museum of Natural History in 2014 estimated a much lower 2000.
Threats to the shark come mostly from humans, caused by illegal or unintentional fishing or “shark culling” in order to impede the perceived threat from them. Separate parts of the world have enacted various protection measures including the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act in Australia in 1999, a $250,000 fine and up to six months in prison in New Zealand, and a ban on baiting and chumming, cage diving, catching, feeding, or towing decoys in Massachusetts, USA in 2015.