Great White Shark
Updated: Jan 15, 2021
Common Name: Great White Shark
Scientific Name: Carcharodon carcharias
Population: There is no reliable population data for the great white shark. It is agreed by scientists however that their numbers are decreasing sharply.²
Distribution: Widespread but commonly found in temperate waters. Population hot spots can be found in South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Northeast US, California and the Pacific coast of Mexico.¹
Great white sharks are most likely the first species that come to mind when thinking about the great carnivores of the sea. Despite the terrifying killer that most of us imagine, the species is much less fearsome than you are led to believe.
Great White sharks belong to a group of sharks known as mackerel sharks and can be found in cool coastal waters around the world.
Their dark grey upper bodies are the perfect camouflage to blend in against the rocky sea floor and their white underbellies is the feature from which they get their name. Great White’s can grow to an average of 15 ft in length, though there have been records of individuals longer than 20 feet.
Habitat and Ecology
Great White sharks are the largest predatory fish in the sea and their ability to retain warmth coupled with their speed makes them extremely efficient hunters. They have an impressive sense of smell to locate their prey and their 300 serrated teeth lined in several rows are the perfect tool for tearing apart their prey.
They have a varied diet of fish, other sharks, birds and molluscs and larger individuals will also prey on sea mammals and small whales. They have also been recorded feeding on dead whales.
A weakness of the Great White is something known as tonic immobility, a trance like state that occurs when turned on their back. It is thought by scientists that this disorientates them which causes the unusual response. Research has found that in some cases Orca have used this as a hunting advantage and preyed on the species, pinning them down and suffocating the shark as they are unable to respond.
Great White sharks have powerful tails that can propel them through the water at speeds of up to 15mph.²
Overfishing and getting caught in nets are the two biggest threats to the species. They are classified as Vulnerable by the IUCN Red List, just one step down from endangered.