The great white shark (scientific name: Carcharodon carcharias) is one of the most feared beasts in the world’s oceans. They are also known as simply the “great white”, white pointer, white shark, or white death. They can be found in the coastal surface waters of all the Earth’s oceans. Here are 10 amazing great white shark facts.
1. The Great White Shark is the largest predatory fish in the world
The Great White is the largest predatory fish in the world’s oceans and also one of the largest fish. The largest verified specimen was measured at 6.0 meters (19.7 feet), found near Ledge Point, Western Australia in 1987. There is a lot of circumstantial evidence to suggest that they can grow even bigger than that.
Great whites generally weigh about 520-770 kg (1,150-1,700 lb).
It is not the biggest shark, though, that title goes to the whale shark, the gentle giants of the seas.
Their babies are also big
Great white sharks are ovoviviparous, which means eggs develop and hatch in the mother’s body (in the uterus) and continue to develop until birth.
The babies (now called pups) are already between 1.2 to 1.5 meters (4-5 feet) long when they are born.
The gestation period is 11 months and litter sizes are usually between 4-7 pups. The largest recorded litter size is 14 pups from a single mother measuring 4.5 meters (15 feet).
2. Great whites are exceptionally fast swimmers and excellent divers
Their torpedo-shaped body combined with powerful tails allows them to swim up to 16 miles per hour /26 km/h) for short bursts. Their peak burst speed is estimated to be above 25 mph (40 km/h).
Great whites can also dive up to 1,200 meters (3,900 feet).
3. They can detect electromagnetic fields generated by animals
Great whites are excellent predators equipped with amazing features. In addition to having an exceptional sense of smell to detect prey, they can also detect tiny electromagnetic fields generated by the movement of living animals.
4. They get temporarily blind while taking a bite
When great white sharks open their jaws to bite, their eyes roll back into their head to protect them. So, they’re actually blind when taking a bite.
5. They get cancer
It’s a common myth that great white sharks don’t get cancer. They do.
It is a fact that has been known since the first malignancy was found in a shark specimen in 1908.
There is also no scientific evidence that shark cartilage is useful in treating or preventing cancer or any other disease.
This annoying myth led a lot of people to hunt them down and try to use their fins as an anti-cancer soup.
6. Great whites start preying on sea mammals after getting big
When they’re young, they feed on small prey, such as fish and rays. But when they’re older and bigger, they generally feast on (more nutritious) sea mammals such as sea lions, seals, dolphins, and small whales. They usually don’t prey on sea mammals until they get 2.5 meters (8 feet) or larger.
7. They can regrow their teeth
A great white shark’s mouth is equipped with a set of 300 big, sharp, triangular teeth arranged in up to seven rows. Furthermore, they have the ability to continuously regenerate their teeth!
A great white lose as many as 20.000 teeth over a lifetime, but each of them can be regrown over a period of days or months.
Scientists think that, since all vertebrate teeth, from sharks to mammals, are incredibly similar, understanding how a shark can regenerate its teeth could help us regrow our own human teeth in the future.
9. Shark attacks occur because they are most likely confusing humans with seals
Normally, great whites (and other sharks) don’t prey on humans. But, sharks, in general, are most likely color blind. Additionally, they can’t make out fine detail. As a result, sometimes they confuse humans with their favorite prey, seals. So, fatal, unprovoked shark attacks occur. This happens very rarely (typically less than 10 times a year globally), though.
9. They completely terrified of killer whales
Despite being the largest predatory fish and feared as a deadly “killing machine”, great whites are completely terrified of killer whales (orcas). When orcas are around, they immediately abandon even the best feeding areas and escape miles away. They don’t return for up to a year even though the orcas are only passing by! In Scientific American’s words, “orcas turn great white sharks into scaredy-cats”.
In 2020, because of orcas, the great whites vanished from the coasts of Cape Town (South Africa). Shark tourism, which is an important income source for Cape Town, was really suffered economically because of their absence.
Interestingly, occasionally, some great whites have been observed to swim near orcas without fear.
Their only natural predator is the killer whale. But, their biggest and most dangerous predator is (you guessed it) humans.
10. They cannot live in captivity!
One of the most amazing great white shark facts: no aquarium in the world has a great white shark because they cannot live in captivity.
For decades, aquariums around the world have tried to contain a great white shark. These attempts did not go well. All the great whites in captivity stopped eating. Some needed help swimming. The longest trial just lasted 16 days, until the unfortunate animal die.
Why great white sharks cannot be kept in captivity?
The reason why great white sharks cannot be kept in captivity is explained in the video below. In a nutshell, like all fish, sharks breathe by filtering oxygen out of the water that passes through their gills. Most fish species open and close to pump the water through. But, great whites cannot do that. To breathe, they have to move forward with their mouths open. Fast!
That’s why the great white sharks start to weaken when they are put in a pool or a tank – even a big one. They constantly run into the glass until they get exhausted and die.
Some not so-amazing great white shark facts
Great whites are classified as globally Vulnerable to extinction by the IUCN red list (International Union for Conservation of Nature).
Their long gestation period of 11 months, small litters, and slow growth rate make the species vulnerable to pressures such as overfishing and environmental change. It takes a long time for great white shark populations to recover.
Related: Largest fish species
- Great white shark on Wikipedia
- “Great White Sharks Are Completely Terrified of Orcas” on the Smithsonian Magazine website
- “Orcas May Turn Great White Sharks into Scaredy-Cats” on the Scientific American website
- 10 Great white shark facts on the National Geographic Kids website
- Great white shark facts on the Smithsonian Ocean website
- Fun great white sharks on the Oceana website
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