The great white shark is a large shark that can be found living in most of the worlds major coastal and offshore waters.
Also known as the great white or white death this shark is one of the most carnivorous species in the ocean and is known for attacking marine mammals as well as humans.
While humans are generally not a main focus of these marine animals they can still be attacked by mistake or when a great white shark feels threatened by them.
In terms of size the great white shark can reach lengths of 12 – 20 ft and weigh between 1,500 – 4,000 pounds or more when fully matured.
They have white colored under-bodies which fade to a deeper grey at the midsection and upper body of the shark.
This coloring helps the shark blend in and makes it more difficult for prey to spot in the water.
From below the white under-body of the shark mimics the bright sunlight shinning down into the ocean.
From the top the grayish skin tone (occasionally bluish or brownish) helps the shark blend in with the oceanic water and habitat that it inhibits.
To help it navigate the ocean these sharks have a large tapered dorsal fin, upper and lower tail fins and moderately sized flippers.
They also have a pointed snout and an aerodynamically shaped body to help them swim through the water with very little resistance.
Unlike cetaceans these marine animals cannot breathe above the surface of the water.
In order to breathe the shark has gills which allow it to extract oxygen directly from the water.
To help with breathing these sharks swim forward through the water allowing it to pass the water over the gills; it is believed that some species may not be able to breathe without constant movement through the water.
Also unlike cetaceans sharks are designed to move horizontally through the water instead moving vertically the way whales, dolphins and porpoises do.
In addition to their regular senses sharks have an additional sense which allows them to detect electromagnetic fields.
This sensitivity to electro fields allows the great white shark to easily detect movements by other marine animals due to the fact that movement causes a small electrical field in all living creatures.
Sharks are considered cold-blooded animals, which means they can adjust to varying climates (both cold and warm) without the need for blubber or body fat to keep them warm.
At times these sharks have been seen making dives as deep as 4,000 ft when traveling and possibly when hunting for food.
These sharks have sharp-pointed teeth which they use to grab and tear apart their prey.
In order to help them tear the flesh off of their prey these sharks take a strong, full bite of the flesh and shake their head from left to right vigorously, which helps separate their prey’s flesh and bones due to the sharp teeth pressing down on the flesh and the constant pulling and yanking force applied to the flesh by the shark’s constant head movement.
While the great white can be found in most of the worlds major oceans they are most commonly found in South Africa, Chile, Hawaii, Japan, the Mediterranean, California and the Northeast Atlantic of the United States among a few other popular locations.
Recent research has also shown that these sharks may migrate from one area to another, however there is no conclusive information pertaining as to why they migrate.
One common theory is that migration may play a primary role during mating and feeding periods.
This also disrupts the previous theory that the great white only inhibited coastal waters as proven by their offshore traveling and distribution behaviors and leads to the belief that there may also be intermingling between various regional groups of great whites.
While not much is known about the great white’s social structure it is known that these sharks operate in a dominance based culture.
Dominance is often determined by age, sex and size.
Since female sharks are generally larger than their male counterparts most females play a dominant role in the group.
Dominance also occurs when a new member is introduced into a group or environment.
Those that have been around longer tend to be more dominant towards the newcomer in the group.
When hunting for food these sharks can often be seen separating in order to avoid conflict over potential prey.
While fighting between these sharks is rare it can happen on occasion when a dominant shark refuses to back down or when one shark feels threatened by another.
The average gestation period for the great white shark is estimated to be 10 – 12 months.
While these sharks do lay eggs (as most fish do) the female carries the egg in her uterus as opposed to fish that lay eggs outside of their body.
Unfortunately not much is known about this species reproduction or breeding habits.
The great white reaches sexual maturity between the ages of 13 – 16 at which point it can begin producing offspring of its own.
These sharks have an estimated lifespan of 30 years although healthy sharks may live longer.
While the great white is an apex predator they do face occasional attacks by groups of hungry killer whale.
Unlike other fish the great white shark is not commonly consumed by people as it is high in mercury and other toxins that would be harmful to humans if consumed.
Attacks on humans
The great white has been popularized by movies such as Jaws that depict this marine animal as a vicious man-eating sea creature.
While it is true that the great white is responsible for the most human attacks by a shark, these creatures don’t usually attack humans unless it’s a case of mistaken identity or if the shark feels threatened by a human.
Some of the most well-known attacks occur to surfers while they are resting in the ocean.
In these instances the great white may confuse a surfboard with a marine mammal and go in for the kill.
Upon noticing the mistake these sharks usually leave, but in some cases they may have already made their attack and severely injured the surfer.
As stated earlier they may also attack if they feel threatened by a human.
Loud boats, lots of people in a small area of water and aggressive behaviors may cause these sharks to attack as a form of assumed self-defense or a response due to their aggressive nature and dominance based social structure.