Known as: Great White Shark, White Shark, Great White, White Death, White Pointer.
Estimated numbers left in the wild: Unknown, though possibly less than 3,500.
The great white shark is a large oceanic apex predator, measuring up to 6 meters long and weighing as much as 2,270 kilograms. The average specimen is more likely to be 4.6 meters long, however. Great white sharks are efficient predators, with powerful jaws and around 300 serrated teeth which can chop off a huge chunk of whatever they bite. Great whites do not deliberately prey on humans but may take a “sample bite” in passing. Mostly, they eat seals, sea turtles, fish, and seabirds.
Hunting and feeding: The senses of great white sharks are extremely keen. This helps them find their prey, since these sharks need to locate enough food to keep them alive in the vastness of the ocean. Their ability to smell blood has become legendary, and with reason – a great white can detect one drop of blood in 100 liters of water, and can smell larger concentrations of blood from up to 5 kilometers away. Another sense at their disposal allows them to pick up the electrical field of a living creature and pinpoint their prey in this way.
Great white sharks are amazingly adapted to their habitat and can leap clear of the water in search of prey – a maneuver called “breaching”. This allows them to snatch seals, seabirds flying low over the water, and fish that attempt to escape by jumping clear of the surface. The torpedo like body of a great white makes it a quick swimmer, reaching speeds of 24 kilometers per hour. These sharks give birth to live young known as pups. Their slow rate of reproduction is necessary for their large size and metabolic rate, but hampers efforts at recovery.
Location: Great white sharks are found around the whole globe, though they avoid Arctic and Antarctic waters. These sharks live in coastal waters where the water temperature ranges from 12 to 24 C. However, there are also enough sightings of great whites deep in the open ocean to suggest that it is not just a coastal species. They also appear to migrate, though the reasons are unknown.
Threats: Human hostility is the chief threat to the great white shark, including hunting for meat and trophies as well as “revenge killings” following a well-publicized shark attack or even a shark attack movie. Fishing for great white sharks is usually carried out by individual shark fishermen rather than on a commercial scale, with the edible fins being one target of the fishing and trophies such as the teeth or jaws being another. Since sharks put up a good fight and there is a slight whiff of danger to the fishing, the excitement of the sport is also a lure. Sharks are also caught and killed accidentally in fishing nets, especially gill nets. Exactly how rare they are is a matter of debate, but their populations are clearly declining.
Conservation efforts: Many conservation organizations focused on the great white shark are now active, such as the White Shark Trust and others. These organizations promote protection measures for sharks and also educate the public about these large marine predators. Many conservation efforts focus on making people less hostile to sharks and building an understanding of their role in nature.
Great White Shark Videos
The Dyer Island Conservation Trust works to protect the marine eco-system around the Western Cape in South Africa and a number of marine animals and birds in the area.
Monterey Bay Aquarium conducts research projects and tagging to study migration, habitats, diets, populations and protect different marine species like the Great White Sharks.
Oceana is the largest international organization focused only on ocean conservation, protecting marine ecosystems and endangered species such as the Great White Shark.