Great White Shark Reference Sheet


Order: Lamniformes (Mackerel Sharks)

Family: Lamnidae (Mackerel Sharks)

Genus and Species: Carcharodon carcharias


Appearance: A sleek, streamlined body, with the topside colored a slaty blue or leaden gray, and the underside colored dirty white. There is a black blotch just behind the pectoral fins, but this is not present in large adults. It has a long, pointed snout and very large jaws which are home to a number of large triangular teeth, with serrated edges.

Size: White sharks are usually no more than 16 ft long, with the most common individuals attaining lengths of around 12-15 ft (also, females are larger than males). However, white sharks have been measured at lengths as much as 21 ft, and there are a few living today that are around 17-20 ft (there used to be more really big white sharks , but most have been fished out by sport anglers). Most of the reports of white sharks longer than 21 ft are either exagerated or false, but the possibility isn't all that far fetched, and I am sure there are some great white sharks in the depths that top these figures by a few ft.

Environment and Life-Style

Habitat: The white shark is found in most temperate and tropical coastal waters around the world. It is also recorded in Hawaii and other mid-ocean islands, but as the white shark is not truly a pelagic (open ocean) shark, and it was long a mystery how they got out there. It is now thought that white sharks are capable of transoceanic trips. White sharks are most abundant in California, South Africa, and Australia, and this is helped by the fact that the species is protected in all of the above places. However, their abundance at said locales may be more because they are simply reported more often there, thanks to the numerous populations on the sea.

Food: The white shark starts its life feeding primarily on fish, and then when it becomes larger, pinnipeds such as sea lions, seals, and its favourite, the elephant seal become important prey items (however, large white sharks still feed on a large amount of fish). Its tooth structure follows this plan, becuase when it is young, it has sharp, gracile teeth for gripping onto slippery fish; when it is larger and feeds more on marine mammals, it develops large, serrated teeth for taking huge bites and tearing off tough flesh and bone (A 16 ft white shark can take the better half of one 500lb sea lion in a single gulp). Other prey include penguins, dolphins, squid, turtles, and other sharks. Less common prey items include shellfish, and various crustaceans. They will also scavenge the remains of whales and other marine life.

Relations to Man: The white shark has been implicated in many attacks on man. Most attacks can be explained by the fact that the white shark mistakens a person (or a surfboard) as a seal on the surface. Most attacks are not fatal, and this is probably becuase white sharks actually do not like human flesh (probably because of low fat content), and after discovering with the first investigatory bite that what they thought was a tasty seal (with lots of fat and flesh) turned out to be nothing but a bony, unappetizing human! Humans usually survive white shark attacks because the attacks are usually "light" ones with little flesh removal (possibly because white sharks just aren't sure if a human or surfer is really a seal and just want to check it out). However, victims of attack can still bleed to death. Certainly, though, if white sharks always attacked people as they attack their pinniped prey, human fatalities would be much higher. Luckily, it seems white sharks can differentiate between a definite pinniped and a pinniped-shaped surfboard or human, and don't attack with as much motivation.

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