Great White Shark

Shortfin Mako Shark The Great White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias) is a streamlined swimmer and a ferocious predator with 3,000 teeth at any one time. This much-feared fish has a torpedo-shaped body, a pointed snout, a crescent-shaped tail, 5 gill slits, no fin spines, an anal fin, and 3 main fins: the dorsal fin (on its back) and 2 pectoral fins (on its sides). When the shark is near the surface, the dorsal fin and part of the tail are visible above the water.

Only the underbelly of the great white shark is actually white; its top surface is gray to blue gray. This is useful in hunting its prey. The great white usually strikes from below and its grayish top coloration blends in with the dark water, enabling it to approach the prey unobserved.

Great whites average 12-16 feet long (3.7-4.9 m) long. The biggest great white shark on record was 23 feet (7 m) long, weighing about 7,000 pounds (3200 kg). Females are larger than males, as with most sharks. Shark pups can be over 5 feet (1.5 m) long at birth.

Great white sharks have been observed along the coastlines of California to Alaska, the east coast of the USA and most of the Gulf coast, Hawaii, most of South America, South Africa, Australia (except the north coast), New Zealand, the Mediterranean Sea, West Africa to Scandinavia, Japan, and the eastern coastline of China and southern Russia.

It is unclear how much a consummate increase in fishing for Great Whites had to do with the decline of Great White population from the 1970s to the present. No accurate numbers on population are available, but populations have clearly declined to a point at which the Great White is now considered endangered. Their reproduction is slow, with sexual maturity occurring at about nine years of age, such that population can take a long time to rise.

More than any documented attack, Steven Spielberg's 1975 film Jaws solidified the image of the Great White as a "man eater" in the public mind. While Great Whites have been responsible for occasional fatalities in humans, they typically do not target humans as prey: for example, in the Mediterranean Sea there were 31 confirmed attacks against humans in the last two centuries, only a small number of them deadly. Many incidents seem to be caused by the animals "test-biting" out of curiosity. Great White Sharks are known to perform test-biting with buoys, flotsam, and other unfamiliar objects as well, and might grab a human or a surfboard with their mouth (their only tactile organ) in order to determine what kind of object it might be.