In the vast and enigmatic world beneath the waves, few creatures invoke as much awe and fascination as the majestic great white shark. With its powerful presence and impressive hunting ability, it becomes the ocean’s most formidable predator. Journey with us as we unveil the awe-inspiring facts and intriguing secrets that shroud this majestic creature.
1. Great White Sharks Are Enormous
The great white shark, renowned as one of the ocean’s most formidable predators, boasts remarkable physical characteristics that empower it to thrive and hunt effectively within its marine habitat.
Typically, it has an average size of around 15 feet (4.5 meters) in length, tipping the scales at an astonishing 5000 pounds (2250 kilograms). The female is often bigger than the male, a necessity arising from their role in accommodating and nurturing their offspring. The world’s biggest great white shark was a female named “Deep Blue,” measuring over 20 feet (6 meters) in length and weighing about 2.5 tons (5511 pounds).
Thanks to their robust, streamlined bodies resembling torpedoes, and their mighty tails, these white sharks swim pretty fast. They have conical faces and large jaws with razor-sharp teeth, making them fearsome predators.
The colors of their bodies help them hunt prey without being detected. The upper side of their bodies is adorned in a shade of blue-gray, allowing them to seamlessly blend with the ocean floor when viewed from above. On the other hand, their white underbelly makes it exceptionally difficult to detect them from below, particularly when sunlight dances through the water.
The great white shark remains an awe-inspiring marvel underwater, captivating and evoking a mix of fear and admiration in those who dare to explore its realm.
The great white shark lives in the ocean over the world. These majestic creatures are most commonly found in coastal regions in various locations, such as South Africa, the northeastern coast of the US and Canada, Australia, Japan, the Pacific coast of Mexico, California, Chile, and New Zealand. Furthermore, people also see them in the North Atlantic Oceans and the Mediterranean.
Despite being widely distributed, there have been no officially verified encounters of these species in the coastal waters of the UK.
These predators have been observed at depths reaching up to 3,900 feet in the ocean. They prefer cold, nutrient-rich water.
To see great white sharks, you can visit one of these places: Cape Cod (Massachusetts, the US), Neptune Islands (Australia), San Diego, Monterey (California, the US), False Bay (South Africa), etc. The Monterey Bay Aquarium stands as the sole facility where the great white shark lives in captivity.
3. They’re formidable hunters
Great white sharks have a diverse diet. The young mainly target smaller prey such as fish and rays, which can be found at different depths within their habitat. However, when growing up, they switch their diet to a more energy-rich one. These adults aim at larger prey, such as seals, sea lions, and smaller whales. Additionally, they also eat rays, squid, tuna, turtles, dolphins, sea birds, and even other sharks like the frilled sharks.
Intriguingly, they also demonstrate scavenging behavior, foraging on fishing nets and feeding on deceased whale carcasses. A noteworthy event occurred in 2020 when scientists documented the first recorded instance of a great white shark preying on a humpback whale.
The physical characteristics coupled with their hunting prowess have earned the white sharks a well-deserved reputation as apex predators in the marine ecosystem.
At the apex of the ocean’s food chain, these saltwater creatures have developed extraordinary adaptations that assist them in their hunting strategies. Possessing sleek and streamlined bodies, they are capable of achieving speeds of up to 40 kilometers per hour (25 miles per hour) in brief surges, allowing them to swiftly close in on their prey and deliver powerful bites.
With 50 functional teeth and multiple supplementary rows of teeth situated behind, they can kill the prey in just a single bite. Their bite is extremely powerful, with the bite force reaching an estimated 4,000 PSI. This makes it one of the most potent bites among all living animals, surpassing a hippo’s bite strength by 2 times.
What’s interesting is that when these teeth are shed, they swiftly regenerate with new ones in the following row. Once getting the prey, the sharks use their teeth to tear it into smaller portions and swallow them.
As previously mentioned, the colors of these creatures serve as an efficient camouflage strategy known as countershading. This characteristic helps them ambush their prey easier.
Despite being apex predators, great white sharks still have predators of their own, including killer whales (orcas) and larger sharks. Whenever encountering these creatures, they have been observed retreating from their usual hunting areas.
4. They don’t eat Humans
Great white sharks are often portrayed as menacing man-eaters, but they are not as dangerous as certain myths may imply. Annually, there are more than 100 documented shark attacks worldwide, with great white sharks accounting for about one-third to half of these incidents.
Roughly 50% of these assaults take place without any provocation, whereas the remaining incidents happen when their territories are intruded or when people provoke or try to feed them.
These sharks are not actively on the hunt for humans. They’re just curious about us. Great white sharks are naturally inquisitive beings and sometimes engage in what is known as a “taste test bite” when they come across something unfamiliar.
After biting, they typically spit out humans, suggesting that we are not their preferred prey. In comparison to the total number of recorded attacks, the number of people killed by white sharks is quite low, with only approximately a fatalities occurring each year. And they are also not drawn to human blood like depictions in movies. They’re more attracted to fish blood or seal blood.
5. They have remarkable senses
People often think that great white sharks can smell blood from a mile away; however, this is not true. Their acute sense of smell just enables them to detect a single drop of blood in 100 liters (approximately 26 gallons) of water. Yet, it’s still amazing.
Their eyes are notably larger in comparison to those of other shark species. These eyes are positioned on each side of their heads, granting them a broad field of vision. However, the young sharks’ vision is not really good.
Researchers have revealed that while seeing toward the water’s surface, the young cannot distinguish between a seal’s silhouette and that of a human. This could explain why white shark attacks human for no reason. It’s a mistaken identity rather than deliberate aggression.
These creatures possess not only an impressive sense of smell but also an exceptional capability for detecting electricity. The ampullae of Lorenzini, a sensory organ situated in their nasal region, allows them to perceive the electrical fields generated by the hearts of other animals. Thanks to this electric sense, the sharks can pinpoint their prey when it is nearby.
6. Behavior and adaptions
Great white sharks are extraordinary beings with distinct adaptations that differentiate them from other predatory sharks. Among their notable characteristics is regional endothermy, an exceptional adaptation enabling them to flourish in colder aquatic environments.
Unlike other cold-blooded fish, white sharks are warm-blooded. This unique trait allows them to maintain a body temperature higher than the surrounding water. The mechanism behind this adaptation involves a complex network of capillaries in their swimming muscles, referred to as the “rete mirabile” or “wonderful net.” As the sharks swim, this network generates heat, which is then efficiently circulated to colder regions of their body, ensuring their body temperature remains elevated.
This ability allows them to live in waters that would be inhospitably cold for other predatory sharks, thereby expanding their range of habitats. Being warm-blooded also equips the sharks with the essential energy to surge ahead during the hunt, granting a formidable edge when capturing prey.
Only about two dozen shark species in the world’s oceans are known as “obligate ram ventilators.” These sharks need to keep swimming at high speeds or use fast-moving currents to force water through their gills to breathe efficiently. Mako sharks and great white sharks are 2 of them, positioning them as some of the swiftest and most formidable sea predators. This also means that these sharks can’t stop swimming. Without constant forward motion or a robust current directed toward their mouths, they would suffocate.
Not only are white sharks fast, but they can also do the thing that whales do, like jumping out of the water. This behavior demands an immense expenditure of energy. The species often do this when pursuing their preferred prey, seals.
In terms of social life, scientists lack comprehensive knowledge about this. Typically, these sharks have been observed living solitary lives, although there have been instances of pairs found traveling and hunting together.
Additionally, the behavior of these sharks varies, with some staying in a specific area throughout their entire lives, while others embark on extensive journeys. For example, in the Pacific, great white sharks have been observed making impressive migrations from Hawaii to Mexico. Moreover, a South African shark astounded researchers when it was recorded swimming all the way to Australia and returning within a remarkably short span of 9 months.
Like other sharks, the great white shark is ovoviviparous. This reproductive process involves female sharks carrying eggs that develop internally, and the young sharks hatch within the oviduct. During this period, the growing embryos are sustained by the egg yolk and fluids secreted into the oviduct. It’s also believed that these sharks engage in oophagy, where the most robust embryos feed on unfertilized eggs for nourishment.
After a 12 – 18 – month gestation period, the females then give birth to a litter of 2 – 17 pups every two to three years. The newborns are impressive, measuring around 5 feet (1.5 m) in length and weighing about 77 pounds (35 kg). Unlike humans, these pups are born with teeth, fully equipped to fend for themselves right from the start. During their first 5 to 6 years of life, they grow approximately 12 inches (30 cm) each year.
Maturity varies between genders, with females reaching maturity at around 14 to 16 years of age, whereas males mature earlier, at 9 to 10 years. Due to their slow reproductive process, female individuals might not initiate reproduction until they are at least 30 years old. The lifespan of a great white shark is quite long, they can live up to 70 years or even more. The oldest white shark ever recorded live up to 73 years.
8. Humans are their main enemies
Although great white sharks are often depicted as highly dangerous to humans, the truth is that humans pose the greatest threat to them. Every year, approximately 100 million sharks and rays fall victim to human activities, including overfishing and the destruction of their habitats.
These sharks fall victim to relentless hunting, solely for the sake of their teeth and their fins. While shark teeth are traded as jewelry, their fins are eagerly sought by the Chinese for soups and traditional medicinal purposes. The heartrending aspect of this practice lies in the fact that the fins and tail are severed while the shark is still alive, leaving it incapable of swimming and causing a suffocating fate. Shockingly, the price commanded by shark fins often surpasses the value of the entire shark, thus perpetuating this brutal and inhumane trade.
Overfishing and unintended entanglement in fishing nets are also threats to these sharks. The IUCN has listed them as vulnerable species, underscoring their precarious status in the wild. Their global population is now below 3,500 individuals.
The media and popular culture’s unfair depiction of these endangered species as “man-eaters” has significantly impeded conservation efforts.