Dec 2019

Great White Shark: Everything You Need to Know!

By Elena Vivaldo

Tell somebody you’re a diver, and you’re guaranteed to be asked whether you’re scared of sharks or if you’ve ever seen one. It’s part of the collective consciousness to associate the deep blue with threats and lurking predators, and the most infamous of all: the great white shark.

As one of the ocean’s deadliest animals, the great white shark captures our imagination as a scary, fast and powerful bloodthirsty creature. Despite its popularity, however, it is one of the least understood animals. So, let’s take a closer look at this incredible creature.

Great White Shark

What is a Great White Shark?

Scientifically known as Carcharodon Carcharias, the great white shark is named after its white underside. It also goes by many names, like white shark, great white or white pointer. It’s a member of the mackerel shark family, which includes other well-known shark species such as the extinct megalodon and the unusual-looking goblin shark and the megamouth shark.

Is a Great White Shark a Mammal?

People often ask themselves this question, and in case you’re still wondering, the answer is “no”. This confusion probably stems from sharks’ similarity to dolphins, which are mammals. But Sharks are fish, really big fish!

White Shark

How Heavy is a Great White Shark?

As the largest predatory fish, it should come as no surprise how heavy great white sharks are. An adult’s average weight is 522–771 kg (1,151–1,700 lb), with females weighing between 680–1,110 kg (1,500–2,450 lb).

How Long is a Great White Shark?

With regards to how long great white sharks are, females are also generally much larger than males, measuring 4.6-4.9 metres (15-16ft). The largest female Great White ever seen is known as “Deep Blue” and has recently just been spotted in Hawaii and measures a whopping 20ft. some brave divers went up close and personal you can see the close encounter here via @oceanramsey. The male Great Whites reach betweeen 3.4-4 metres in length (11-13ft). But it is not uncommon to find bigger sharks.

Size-of-a-great-white-shark

How Fast is a Great White Shark?

Despite their massive size, you’ll be surprised how fast great white sharks are. They can propel themselves through the water up to 33 kmph (21 mph), proving to be extremely fast and agile predators.

How Big are a Great White Sharks Teeth?

If you picture a great white shark, you will probably think of a big mouth with dagger-like teeth, and rightly so. The great white has a row of around 300 serrated teeth behind the main ones, and just like a conveyor belt, it rotates to replace any tooth that breaks off. The great white will continue to replace its teeth throughout its life – thousands of times.

Great White Shark Teeth

As if this wasn’t impressive enough, wait ‘til you find out how big the great white shark’s teeth are! Measuring an average of 6cm (2.5 inches), it is no surprise that the teeth are the first thing that come to mind.

What do Great White Sharks Eat?

With such a powerful bite, what do great white sharks eat? As a carnivorous predator, their diet consists mainly of fish, sea lions, rays, other species of sharks and some species of dolphins, but their preferred prey is the seal. Once they get hold of their prey, the great whites shake their head from side to side, using their teeth to saw off mouth-sized chunks of meat to swallow whole.

How do Great White Sharks Hunt?

Thanks to their special sensing organs located on their snout (ampullae of Lorenzini), great whites (like other sharks), can detect the slightest change in electric and magnetic fields in the water. In other words, they can easily detect water movement, as well as the heartbeat of immobile animals.

Great White Shark Hunting

Also, great whites have an acute sense of smell and can to smell a drop of blood in 100L of water up to 5km (3miles) away! With a natural body design finely tuned to kill, the white shark has no problems locating its next meal. But despite its brute image, the great white shark is not a frantic killing machine, but rather a very smart hunter. So, how do great white sharks attack?

The great white shark has two hunting methods. The first is a surface charge, where the shark swims on the surface towards its prey. You can often see its iconic dorsal fin exposed. The second, and the most spectacular one, is called Polaris attack. The great shark will camouflage itself by staying close to the seabed as it searches for its prey on the surface. Once it does, it performs an explosive high-speed vertical swim, delivering a single powerful bite. The force behind this breaching behaviour can be so powerful that the shark completely launches itself out of the water. Imagine that!

When is Great White Shark Mating Season?

Although one of the most recognizable shark species, little is known about its mating habits, matins season or its life cycle in general. We know that baby sharks grow in an egg and hatch while still in the mother’s womb. The gestation period is between 12-18 months, with the mother giving birth to 2-10 pups.

Where are Great White Sharks Found?

At this point, you’re probably wondering where great white sharks are found. Great whites live in coastal waters across the world, from North-South America to the Mediterranean Sea, South Africa, Japan and Oceania. They prefer cooler water temperatures ranging between 12-24C (54-75F). They usually stay in shallow waters, near the surface. This explains the occasional encounter with humans.

Where Are Great White Sharks Found

Can Great White Sharks Live in Freshwater?

As the apex predator of the sea, can the white shark live in freshwater? No, great whites cannot survive in freshwater, unlike other species of sharks. Most notably, the bull shark.

Why do Great White Sharks Attack Humans?

Despite its unshakable reputation for being a man-eater, great white shark attacks on humans are, in fact, rare and only a few are fatal.

There are different theories to explain why great white sharks attack humans. Some believe that sharks confuse humans’ silhouette for that of a seal. Others believe that being the curious creatures that they are, they take a teste bite to see if human meat is a source of food, which is not. The human body has too many bones and too little fat to appeal to the diet of a great white.

Whatever the explanation, they soon realize their mistake after the first bite and swim away.

Why is the Great White Shark Endangered?

Although there is no accurate data on white shark population, over the years their numbers have rapidly declined, and the IUCN has listed them as vulnerable.

But why is the great white shark endangered? Primarily because of illegal human interaction. The white sharks’ reputation as a big and dangerous animal has attracted many sports-fishing enthusiasts and trophy hunters to kill them for fun for their fins, jaws and teeth.

Great white sharks also get caught up in fishing nets and meshes that protect beaches. What can we do to protect great white sharks? By rising shark awareness and by simply debunking myths that are still circulating because of the “Jaws effect”.

Conclusion

There is no denying that great white sharks are dangerous, but if there is one thing we shouldn’t do is continue living in the misconceptions created by the media. By learning to understand them, we can see them for what they are: highly intelligent creatures that keep our ecosystem balanced and thriving. Once we realise how much they help us, we can start to accept them out of respect – not fear.

If you’re interested in scuba diving with sharks and want to live to tell the tale, there are plenty of alternatives for you and you can learn more about diving with blacktip reef sharks in our other blog.

That’s all for our take on the infamous ocean predator “The Great White” Shark. If you have any comments or views you’d like to share, please enter them in the comments below and don’t forget to share this with your diver friends and peers on social media.. Happy Diving! :)

Photo Credit(s): Elias Levy, 900hp, Travelbag Ltd & Yuri Drozd.

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Elena Vivaldo

One thing's for sure, I slowly drifted into becoming a PADI instructor.
I took my first breath underwater when I was 10 while on holiday in Turkey, and got my open water certification at 16, in Thailand.

Initially, diving was simply something I enjoyed doing while on holiday, but at some point, I decided to up my game and to make something out of it. I've always loved travelling, and diving gave me the freedom to travel and work at the same time. So I took my first step towards becoming a PADI pro, and I did my divemaster internship in Tenerife. I worked on the island for a few months before heading to India to further hone my diving skills.

Years later, and with many dives under my weight belt, I've had the great opportunity to introduce people to the underwater world and to explore many exciting dive destinations. There is nothing I like more than seeing new dive sites around the world (my weakness).

When not teaching, I continue to share my love for diving by writing about it. As a copywriter, I can blend my diving and writing skills to create insightful content. But more importantly, I've found a way to stay connected to the world beneath the waves even when I'm out of the water.

Diving Qualifications:
- PADI Open Water Scuba Instructor
- PADI Speciality Instructor: deep, wreck, night, enriched air, O2
- EFR Instructor
- Scubapro Level 1 Technician

Dream Diving Destinations:
- Palau
- Cenotes, Mexico
- Galapagos
- Vancouver Island, Canada
- Sardine Run, South Africa
- Mass coral spawning, Great Barrier Reef