This fearsome creature is the largest predator in the ocean, which means it hunts other ocean creatures. Its scientific name, Carcharodon carcharias, is believed to have Greek origins translating to “sharpen,” “teeth,” and “type of shark.” Other less formal names are white shark, white pointer, and white death.
Unlike what you hear in the movies, great white sharks do not eat people. In fact, they use what is called a “test biting behavior,” which enables them to use taste buds in their mouth and throats to characterize edible and non-edible food before swallowing.
If a great white shark mistakes a human for prey and attacks, it will instantly retreat as soon as it figures out the human is not its typical dinner and never return to the scene of the attack to consume its supposed meal. Humans simply possess too many bones and not enough fat to entice a great white shark!
Great white sharks are found worldwide in the cold to temperate waters. Their preferred temperature is between 55 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. They can swim on the surface but also dive deep into ocean waters.
An average great white shark weighs about 2,000 pounds and is roughly half the size of a school bus! Although they are massive, they are not the biggest shark. A whale shark wins the size contest.
Although white is the color used in its name, great white sharks are not even pure white in color. They are actually a dark shade of gray on top and white down below. This coloring allows them to blend in from above and below.
The great white shark has a dorsal fin on its back and two fins on each of its sides. This is commonly referred to as a “torpedo” shape. They do not have a single bone in their body! Instead, their skeletons are formed completely of cartilage.
They are also known for their rows and rows of large, triangular teeth. The serrated edge makes their teeth ideal for taking out large chunks of meat from their prey. Sharks do not have to wait to chew their food; instead, they swallow it whole! They also do not have to wait on the tooth fairy.
When a tooth is lost, another one will take its place in the row within a few days!
Great white sharks are carnivores, meaning they only eat meat. However, they are also opportunistic predators. Any marine or ocean animal, such as a seal, sea lion, or even a sea turtle, are not safe from a hungry great white. They even have been known to scavenge on carrion, such as dead whale carcasses.
Great white sharks’ five senses are honed weapons allowing for efficient, specialized hunting. Two of their five senses, sight, and smell, are specially adapted to their predator lifestyle.
The eyes of the great white are laser-sharp, and this is the main sense it used when hunting prey, an animal hunted and killed by another. They are known as a visual predator, attacking prey in a swift, surprise strike from below when they see it outlined above them.
The smell is their most acute sense. They can smell a single drop of blood floating in 25 gallons of water or a small amount of blood up to 3 miles away!
Great white sharks are ovoviviparous, which means the pups are eggs that develop in the mother’s body and then hatch inside the mother. Soon after, the baby shark is born. Baby sharks are called pups.
Great white shark pups are born live and instantly swim away from the mother to begin life on their own. Young sharks often feed on prey such as rays, bony fish, and even other sharks!
Scientists believe female great white sharks start breeding between 11 and 15 years of age and carry pups for anywhere from 12 to 18 months! In comparison, humans carry babies for 9 months. It is also believed great female whites only reproduce twice in a lifetime.
The great white shark is known as the dominant predator in the ocean. Its only other known ocean predator is an orca whale, which will flip a shark over on its back, causing it to drown. Instead of another ocean creature, great white sharks really have one predator to fear: humans!
Many great white sharks die every year due to overfishing, illegal poaching, ocean pollution, and accidental trapping. Although not on the endangered list currently, the population is listed as Vulnerable. Some great white populations have decreased as much as 70% over the last few years.
- When you look at a picture of a great white shark, you may notice it does not have an eyelid. This allows great white sharks to roll their eyeballs into their sockets while attacking prey. At the last moment before the full attack, the shark becomes basically blind! This unique mechanism allows them to protect their eyes from injury during feeding.
- Sharks must continuously swim, or they drown. Swimming is to sharks what breathing is for humans. Orca whales use this to their advantage and sometimes flip the shark onto its back, leaving it unable to swim.