Great White Shark

Carcharodon carcharias

Few creatures strike more fear in humans than the great white shark. In reality, great white shark attacks on humans are rare. And it is even rarer for one of these attacks to be fatal. However, the size of the great white shark and its efficiency as a predator add to the perpetuation of this unnecessary fear.

Great white shark

The great white shark averages 4.5 m (15 ft.) in length, but some have been recorded as large as 6 m (20 ft.) long! They generally weigh up to 2250 kg (5000 lb.).

Great white sharks are blue-gray on the dorsal, or top, part of their bodies. This helps them blend in with the bottom of the ocean when viewed from above. Their belly, or ventral, part of the body, is white. This makes it difficult to see the sharks from below, with sunlight shining in around them.

With strong, torpedo-shaped bodies and powerful tails, great whites are fast swimmers.  They can reach speeds up to 24 km/hr (15 mph)!

Great whites have several rows of teeth that can number into the thousands. As teeth fall out, they are rapidly replaced by those in the row behind them. These sharp, serrated teeth can be devastating. A single, large bite can be fatal.

One interesting fact about great whites, and sharks in general, is that they do not have bones. Their skeletons are made of cartilage (the strong, flexible material found in your nose and ears).

Great whites spend their time in temperate waters all over the world, although they do make brief trips into colder water in the north. They live in the upper part of the ocean, towards the surface, and close to the shore, where sunlight shines through and prey is available.

What Great White Sharks Eat

Great white attacking a seal

Great whites use their speed and coloring to help them hunt. They search for prey at the surface of the ocean while swimming below. Once they spot a target, they use a burst of speed to bump their prey while simultaneously biting it.

When great white sharks are young, they feed on smaller prey, like fish and rays. As they grow larger, they feed more exclusively on marine mammals, such as sea lions, seals and small whales.

Great White Shark Reproduction

Not much is known about the mating habits of great white sharks. What we do know is that after mating, the female develops several eggs which hatch in her womb.

The newly-hatched shark pups feed on unfertilized eggs in the womb as they develop before being born. In general, the mother gives birth to a litter of 2-10 pups, each of which average 1.5 m (5 ft.) in length.

Male great whites reach maturity at 9-10 years of age. Females mature even later, between 14 and 16 years of age. Scientists believe female sharks give birth once every couple years, but even that is uncertain.

Great whites live about 40-70 years in the wild. They are at the top of the food chain and have few threats in the ocean. Only orcas and larger sharks can pose a risk. The only other risk to the great white shark is human interaction.

Conservation Status

The IUCN Red List classifies the great white shark as vulnerable, but it is on the cusp of being endangered due to overfishing. Sometimes great whites get caught by accident in fishing nets. Sometimes sport fishermen hunt them for their jaws and fins, which sell for considerable amounts of money.

What You Can Do to Help

You can help great white sharks by not purchasing great white jaws or items made from their fins.

Great White Shark Range

Great white shark distribution map

The great white shark lives in temperate waters all over the world. Sometimes they also make brief trips into colder water in the north.

Great White Shark Resources

Blog Posts about the Great White Shark

About the Author

P.A. Smith is a middle school Language Arts teacher. He is also a contributing editor of My House Rabbit.