Great white shark facts, pictures and in-depth information: get the low down on one of the world's most feared ocean predators!
What does the great white shark eat? What habitat does it prefer? Does it ever sleep? Does it have any predators of its own? Read on to find out…
Great White Shark Facts: Family & Characteristics
The great white shark, scientific name Carcharodon carcharias, is a fish in the white shark family, Lamnidae. This family is part of a larger group of sharks, the order Lamniformes, whose members are known as "mackerel sharks".
Like all mackerel sharks, the great white shark has two dorsal fins, five gill slits, an anal fin, and a mouth that extends back past the eyes. (The great white shark's hind dorsal fin is significantly smaller than its famous front dorsal fin.)
Unlike those of requiem sharks (such as the tiger shark), the eyes of mackerel sharks lack a protective clear, third eyelid known as a nictitating membrane.
- You can discover the different types of sharks on this page: Types of Sharks
- You can find out more about fish on this page: Fish - The Ultimate Guide
- Find out about shark reproduction on this page: Do Sharks Lay Eggs?
How Dangerous Is The Great White Shark?
The great white shark is greatly feared throughout the world, and to some extent the shark's bad reputation is deserved; the species is, after all, an apex predator equipped with a range of adaptations to locate and overcome its prey.
The great white shark is responsible for a greater number of fatal attacks on humans than any other shark species. In fact, according to the International Shark Attack File, the species is responsible for almost three times as many fatalities as its nearest "competitor", the Tiger Shark. (Source)
However, it is important to remember that the majority of great white attacks on humans are not fatal, and the the great white does not specifically target humans. In fact, scientists suggest that the fish are often "sample biting" before releasing their "catch".
Great White Shark Size
The great white shark can reach a maximum length of up to 20 ft / 6.1 m and a maximum weight of up to 1,905 kg / 4,200 lb.
The shark's average size is considerably smaller, with females (the larger of the sexes) being around 4.75 m / 15.58 ft., and males 3.7 m / 12.14 ft. in length.
Watch the video below to see one of the biggest great white sharks ever to be filmed!
Great white sharks are characteristically slate-grey on the upper body with the distinctive white underbelly from which they get their name.
The "dark uppersides / pale undersides" color scheme in known as countershading, and provides camouflage from both above and below. Countershading is seen in a wide range of ocean animals, from sharks to penguins.
Great White Shark Habitat
Great white sharks are found in temperate coastal waters all around the world, and will occasionally travel into the open ocean.
- You can find out more about marine habitats on this page: Animal Habitats
The species is migratory, and is known to cross oceans. Individuals have been recorded traveling between South Africa and Australasia.
There is no reliable data on the great white’s population size.
Great white sharks can be found at depths of up to 1,200 feet / 3,937 meters.
Great White Shark Facts: Reproduction
On average, female great white sharks are thought to become sexually mature between 17 and 30 years of age. Gestation is thought to last over a year, and a litter typically consists of 2 to 10 infants.
As is the case with all sharks, the great white shark’s young are known as “pups”.
- You can find out more about the life-cycle of a shark on this page: Shark Life Cycle
Great White Shark Lifespan
The lifespan of the great white shark is estimated to be 70 years.
What Does A Great White Shark Eat?
Great white sharks are opportunistic hunters, with sharks of all ages eating a wide variety of animals, including fish, marine mammals, birds and reptiles (in the shape of sea turtles).
Young great white sharks typically target fish, whereas older sharks prefer marine mammals such as sea lions, seals and whales (including dolphins). Carrion also features in the shark’s diet.
Great whites like to have the element of surprise when stalking their prey and will often swim below their victims before rapidly swimming upward to attack.
After eating a large meal, a great white shark might not feed again for up to 2 months.
Great White Shark Adaptations
The great white shark has numerous adaptations for a predatory lifestyle. Its streamlined shape and powerful tail allow it to reach high speeds, allowing it to capture other fast-swimming ocean animals.
How Fast Can A Great White Shark Swim?
The great white shark has an estimated top speed of 25 miles / 40 km per hour, perhaps with short bursts of 35 miles / 56 km per hour. (Source)
How Many Teeth Does A Great White Shark Have?
The shark’s mouth contains around 300 serrated, triangular teeth, ideal for cutting through flesh.
The shark’s teeth are arranged in rows, with new rows continuously moving forwards to replace the older teeth at the front.
In the course of its lifetime, a great white shark can get through 20,000 teeth!
Like all sharks, great white sharks are equipped with sense organs known as ampullae of Lorenzini, which can detect electromagnetic fields produced by the muscles the shark’s prey.
Do Great White Sharks Sleep?
It's unlikely that great whites sleep in the same way as we do. They exhibit periods of inactivity, but whether they are “sleeping” or just “resting” is hard to say.
Great whites have to swim constantly or they will sink. Like all cartilaginous fish (fish whose skeletons are made of cartilage, rather than bone), the great white lacks a swim bladder to keep it afloat. (This internal, gas-filled organ is common among bony fish.) Instead, the great white shark has an oily liver, which provides some floatation.
Great White Shark Predators
Great white sharks are apex predators, and as adults have no natural predators of their own. Young great white sharks may be predated by other sharks (including other great white sharks), and there have been reports of attacks on great whites by pods of killer whales, or orca.
- You can see more apex predators on this page: Apex Predators
Are Great White Sharks Endangered?
The great white shark is rated "Vulnerable" by the IUCN. The species population is declining, and this threatened shark could potentially become an endangered species.
The main threat to the great white shark is accidental capture (bycatch) by fisheries employing techniques such as longlines, gillnets and trawling whilst targeting other species.
Top Great White Shark Facts
- Great white sharks can sense a single drop of blood in 25 gallons (100 liters) of water
- The species can travel at speeds up to 25 miles / 40 km per hour – perhaps faster in short bursts.
- Great white females are generally larger than males.
- Great white sharks do not chew their meals, instead ripping their food into bite-sized pieces which are swallowed whole.
- Great whites are equipped with electroreceptory organs called "ampullae of Lorenzini" with which they can sense prey.
- Great white sharks can't swim backwards.
- Unlike most fish, which are cold-blooded, the great white shark can maintain a body temperature higher than that of its surroundings, and as a result is classed as “warm-blooded”.
- Great whites can live up to 70 years of age - perhaps even longer.
- The coloration of the great white is a form of countershading, disguising the shark from prey both from below and above.
- The scientific name for the great whites is Carcharodon carcharis. “Caracharodon” is derived from the greek words “kacharos”, meaning “sharp” or “jagged”, and “odous”, meaning “tooth”.
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- You can find out more about sharks on this page: Types Of Sharks: Shark Species List with Pictures & Facts
- You can discover some awesome Australian animals on this page: Australian Animals List with Pictures & Facts