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Five Things to Know About Great White Sharks

Get to know the misunderstood marine predator that was made famous by the movie, 'Jaws.'

By Jenna DeedyPublished 5 years ago 3 min read
Great White Shark off the coast of Cape Cod. Photo by the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy

One of the most celebrated species of shark in the world, the great white shark (Carchardon carcharias) is regarded as the largest species of predatory shark on Earth. A healthy adult shark can grow up to 21 feet in length and weight up to 4,000 pounds. In addition to having powerful jaws that are full of large serrated teeth, they are also capable of exerting lethal forces of more than 20 tons per square inch when biting on prey and foreign objects. So, in honor of “Shark Week”, here are five facts to know about the great white shark...

1. Great whites are stealthy animals.

When it comes to their staple diet, great white sharks tend to prey on penguins, seals, and sea lions as well as various fish species such as tuna from which they derive high fat content. However, it’s the seals that are highly agile and have proven to be a match for the sharks in the event of a chase between shark and seal. So, the sharks will play tactical waiting games in which they hunt hidden from sight below the murky depths of the ocean. From there, they will look for tell-tale signs of their marine mammal victims that might be heading back to shore after a long day of feeding out in the water. When the timing is right, sharks will begin to hurtle to hit their marine mammalian prey on the surface with massive burst of speed that’s enough to cause the seal to breach, killing it instantly. From there, sharks will circle around the newly killed prey until it’s safe enough to start feeding on it. This is because sharks need to avoid potential eye injury from an injured seal, that is, if it survived the attack.

2. They are warm-blooded.

Studies that have been done on great white sharks have shown that they are endothermic. This means that they have the ability to generate additional body temperature above the surrounding water within their own muscles. Since great white sharks are usually found in colder waters, a 10-degree Celsius increase in body will occur. This enables the animals to boost their speed and ability to reach to their prey quickly, which does make a huge difference in success rates when preying on marine mammals.

3. Their fossil record is pretty unique.

The ancestor of the great white shark first appeared in the fossil record around 65 million years ago with an ancestral shark species called Isurolamna inflate. This animal would eventually give rise to other shark species that are part of the Mackerel shark family like the mako shark. However, the modern great white shark as we know it, first appeared in the fossil record around 11 million years ago.

4. They grow and reproduce slowly.

Great white sharks grow slowly and will not breed until they are at least ten years of age and reach around 12 feet and 1500 pounds. Females only give birth to two to ten pups every three years. Because of their slow growth and low reproductive rates, this makes the sharks threatened by overfishing more than ever.

5. They are vulnerable.

In the North Atlantic alone, the great white shark population is thought to have declined by around 75 percent in last 15 years. They face a variety of threats such as by-catch, finning, habitat destruction, the effects of climate change, and trophy hunting. In addition, since great white sharks are slow-growing and have a very few pups, they are vulnerable to the possibility of facing extinction on the long run, making population recovery difficult. In the United States, they have been regarded as a protected species since the late 1990s, but the overall population size is unknown while they are thought to be “rare”.

While little is still known about the natural history of the great white shark and their ever shrinking habitats, it’s common knowledge that when sharks are terminated from the marine ecosystem, it causes imbalance to the marine environment as well as economic problems for coastal communities. Only education and a change in attitude towards sharks can ensure their survival.

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About the Creator

Jenna Deedy

Zoo and Aquarium Professional, Educator, Cosplayer, Writer and B.A. in Psychology whose got a lot to share when it comes to animals, zoos, aquariums, conservation, and more.

Instagram: @jennacostadeedy

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