Great White Sharks

Sharks help to increase the species diversity of our oceans by driving competition and controlling population sizes in the ocean ecosystem.

Common Name
Scientific Name
Diet
Size
Depth
Ecosystem/Habitat
Zone
Great White Shark
Carcharodon carcharias
Great white sharks eat seals, turtles and otters.
21 feet (6.4 m)
0 - 3,900 feet (1,200 m)
Coastal and offshore waters around the world.
Bathypelagic Zone

Great White Sharks

Roaming through the vast open ocean, there is one creature from the depths that is known the world over for its supposed aggression. With coal black eyes, and a mouth lined with rows of teeth, the great white shark is no stranger to the waves. It is, after all, the world’s largest predatory fish at 15 to 20 feet long (4.6 to 6.1 meters). Being such powerful predators, they have a key role to play at the top of the marine food chain.

This role is to maintain balance in the ecosystem, limiting populations of species below them in the food chain and removing weak and sick organisms in a ruthless demonstration of ‘survival of the fittest’. In doing so, they help ensure species diversity and serve as a vital indicator for the health of our oceans. By competing with other predators and preventing any one species from monopolising resources of prey populations, great white sharks increase the species diversity of their ecosystem. To put it simply, more predators lead to greater diversity. Healthy oceans need sharks.

Great whites are notoriously well-adapted to the life of a predator, with 300 teeth and a heavy, torpedo-shaped body. Their streamlined morphology allows them to cruise very efficiently for long periods of time, useful for traversing the expanse of the open ocean while using less energy. It also allows them to switch to high speed bursts when in pursuit of prey, often breaching out of the surface of the water entirely or swimming at speeds of 15 miles per hour.

The grey of their upper bodies is their most useful adaptation; camouflage, allowing them to blend in against the depths beneath. From below, the white colouration that gives them their name means they blend also with the bright surface of the ocean.

When hunting, great whites do not use their serrated, triangular teeth to chew. Instead they are used to rip their prey into mouth-sized pieces which are then swallowed whole. 

They target a number of creatures as prey, from small fish to seals and dolphins and sometimes whale carcasses, for despite their reputation as mindless killers, humans are not on the menu. This fish of legend is far less fearsome in reality.

According to the International Shark Attack File, there were no more than 64 unprovoked shark attacks in 2019, a large number of which were not from Great Whites but other species such as bull and tiger sharks. Only 2 out of all 64 attacks proved fatal. In the few cases where sharks target humans, it is rarely out of hunger, but rather it occurs when the predators are confused or curious or feel under threat. Studies found that great whites, which are naturally curious creatures, often "sample bite" then release their human target upon discovering we aren’t quite as tasty as they hoped. Contrastingly, about 100 million sharks and rays are killed each year by humans for their fins and flesh. Thus great whites are now considered vulnerable, threatened by commercial fishing, contamination, pollution and bycatch which puts them at risk of going extinct.

They are wild animals, the apex predators of the ocean, and when you’re in the water you enter their world. Tread carefully.

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