Great white shark

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The great white shark, also known simply as the white shark, is likely the most feared of all fishes. They are frequently thought of as man-eaters, but this reputation has been distorted by media.

These sharks are not completely white as their name might indicate. As with many large aquatic creatures, they are white, or lightly colored on the bottom, and darker, in this case various shades of gray, on top. This helps them blend in better with the surroundings no matter what side they are viewed from.

One of the most fearsome features this shark has is its 300 sharp, serrated teeth. In fact, part of its scientific name comes from Greek words meaning “Ragged tooth”!

There are several other reasons great white sharks are great predators. They are capable of swimming in bursts of up to 35 miles (50 km) per hour; they are able to sense electric fields put off by other creatures, and they have an incredibly good sense of smell. These sharks can detect just a single drop of blood in 25 gallons (95 l) of water, and can even detect slightly larger quantities of blood from up to 3 miles away!

On last dangerous feature about this shark is its speed. They are able to swim at speed of up to 15 miles (24 km) per hour! This is three times as fast as the fastest human swimmer!

Size

Great white sharks are the largest of all predatory fish. The basking shark and whale shark are larger, but they are peaceful plankton-eaters. There are also a few species that are longer than the great white shark, but they are not nearly as large and heavy.

These fish are monsters. They average about 15 feet (4.6 m) in length, but they can reach up to 21 feet (6.4 m)! Even average sized great white sharks weigh about 5,000 pounds (2,268 kg), while the largest ones can tip the scales at almost 7,500 pounds (3,400 kg)! The average weight is about the weight of a large pickup truck, while the largest is heavier than a 15 passenger van! In this species, females are usually larger than the males. The picture below shows their size relative to a human.

Attacks

With the size these sharks have, it is easy to see why people are afraid of being attacked by a great white shark. There are about 100 shark attacks reported around the world each year. Of these, about one-third to one-half are by the great white shark. Most attacks by this species are not fatal, however.

Research has shown that most attacks are just the sharks being curious and having a test-bite before deciding not to have a meal. While that’s not a huge comfort to anyone who’ll be swimming in an area with these sharks, it does show that most great white sharks do not have humans on their menu.

Diet

So if humans aren’t on this shark’s menu, what is? Well, given their size, almost any ocean-dwelling creature can be. Most of their prey is fish, but they will also consume turtles, mollusks, crustaceans, and sea birds. Sometimes aquatic mammals such as porpoises, dolphins, seals, and sea lions will fall to the powers of the great white shark.

Habitat and range

As you can see in the map below, great white sharks live in almost all the world’s oceans except in the Arctic and Antarctic. They typically spend their time near the coasts, but tracking data has shown them to make long, trans-oceanic journeys.

Studies have shown adults to swim about 1.2 miles (1.9 km) below the surface. They prefer warmer waters with temperatures between 59 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit (15-22 C).

Status and threats

The great white shark, despite its large size and being at the top of the food chain, is classified as ‘Vulnerable’ on the IUCN Redlist. Because of their size, there are almost no natural predators for the full-grown adults. They may be attacked by killer whales, or other large sharks, but most of the time these fish are not under any real threat of predation.

The main threat to these sharks is hunting by humans. While often captured as bycatch, great white sharks are also caught on purpose for many reasons. Their fins are used in shark fin soup, their skin is used for leather, their liver is used for oil, and their meat is used in fish meal.

People also hunt great white sharks out of fear. The irrational fear of a shark attack causes some people to kill these sharks too. Enthusiastic game fishers consider the great white shark to be the holy grail of all trophies. Their strength, speed, and large size, which protects them from natural predators, makes them a prize catch for sport fishermen.

Reproduction

Great white sharks usually live on their own or in a pair. Sometimes there will be a group of up to ten of them, but that only happens when they are feeding on a large animal. Not much is known about the mating of these sharks. Scientists have found scars on the sharks which suggests the males fight for the right to mate.

The reproduction of these sharks is ovoviviparous. This huge word means the eggs develop and hatch inside the female’s body. When the young, or pups, are born, they look like small versions of the adults. Each litter consists of between two and ten pups, each of which is about one meter (3 feet) long at birth!

The gestation period lasts about one year. During this time, the larger pups may feed on other eggs to get the nutrients they need. Because of the length of their gestation period, the females are thought to only mate once every other year. It can take between 15 and 20 years for the young sharks to reach their full size. They can live up to 40 years in the wild.

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Sources:

Photo credits:

  • Great white shark – Terry Goss
  • Great white shark compared to human – Wikipedia user: Kurzon
  • Great white shark range – maplab
  • Mystery animal – Gregory Moine
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