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The Great White Shark. An untold story. What’s In A Name?. The Great White Shark is also known as the ‘White Pointer’, ‘White Shark’ and ‘White Death’.

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the great white shark

The Great White Shark

An untold story....

what s in a name
What’s In A Name?
  • The Great White Shark is also known as the ‘White Pointer’, ‘White Shark’ and ‘White Death’.
  • Its scientific name is Carcharodon carcharias; Carcharodon comes from the Greek words karcharos, which means sharp or jagged, and odous, which means tooth.

Right: A fossil of the jagged tooth for which the Great White Shark is scientifically named.

fossil record and genealogy
Fossil Record And Genealogy...
  • The oldest known fossils of the Great White Shark is 16 million years old, dating back to the Milocene Era.
  • Their closest known relatives of the Great White Shark are four species of mackerel shark in the same genetic family, the Lamnidae.

Right: A Short fin Mako shark, one of the closest relatives to the Great White Shark.

world wide distribution
World Wide Distribution:
  • Great White Sharks live in almost all coastal and offshore waters which have water temperatures between 12 and 24 °C.
  • They are a migratory species as proven evident by tagging programs of the animals.

Above: Global range of the Great White Shark in the world’s oceans highlighted in blue.

anatomy and appearance
Anatomy And Appearance...
  • The Great White Shark has a large, robust conical snout.
  • The upper and lower lobe fins are around the same size, like species of mackerel sharks, which are the closest known relatives of the Great White Shark.
  • It has a large triangular dorsal fin.
  • They display counter shading in their colouring, by having a grey top and white belly giving it an overall mottled appearance.
  • This coloration makes it difficult for prey to spot the shark because it breaks up the shark's outline when seen from the side. From above, the darker shade blends with the sea and from below it exposes a minimal silhouette against the sunlight.
  • Great white sharks, like many other sharks, have rows of serrated teeth behind the main ones, ready to replace any that break off.
a question of size
A Question Of Size?
  • Male Great White Sharks reach maturity at 3.5–4.0 m long while females do so at 4.5–5.0 m long.
  • Adults on average are 4–5.2 m long and have a mass of 680–1100 kg.
  • The Great White Shark can reach 6.1 m in length and 1,900 kg in weight.
  • The maximum size is subject to debate because some reports are rough estimations or speculations performed under questionable circumstances.

Right: An interesting chart of Great White Sharks compared to other giants of the animal kingdom, both past and present.

amazing adaptations
Amazing Adaptations:
  • Great white sharks, like all other sharks, have an additional sense which enables them to detect the electromagnetic field emitted by the movement of other organisms.
  • If the Great White Shark is close enough, it can even detect the electrical pulse of an animal’s heart beat.
  • To more successfully hunt fast and agile prey such as sea lions, the great white has adapted to maintain a body temperature warmer than the surrounding water.
  • To do so, they have evolved a close web-like structure of veins and arteries, located along each lateral side of the Great White Shark’s body, these conserve heat by warming the cooler arterial blood with the venous blood that has been warmed by the working muscles.
  • As a result of this amazing adaptation certain parts of the body, like the stomach, can be at temperatures up to 14 °C above that of the surrounding water, while the heart and gills remain at sea temperature.
  • Therefore, the Great White Shark can be considered an endothermic poikilotherm because its body temperature is not constant but is internally regulated.
  • For Great White Sharks, large amounts of research into their behaviour needs to be done to be able to understand them completely.
  • Research from South Africa indicates that the sharks have some form of a dominance hierarchy; females dominate males, larger dominates smaller and residents dominate newcomers.
  • Great White Sharks tend to separate and resolve conflicts with rituals and displays.
  • These creatures have been revealed to be intelligent, curious and even social.
  • Groups of Great White Sharks have been observed in stable "clans" of two to six individuals on a yearly basis, near Seal Island, Cape Town, South Africa.
  • It is not known whether clan members are related but they appear to get along peacefully enough.
  • In fact, it is believed that the social structure of a clan of Great White Shark is probably most aptly compared to that of a wolf pack; in that each member has a clearly established rank and each clan has an alpha leader.
  • When members of different clans meet, they seem to establish social rank non-violently through a fascinating variety of interactions.
spy hopping
Spy Hopping:
  • The Great White Shark is one of only a few sharks known to regularly lift its head above the sea surface to gaze at other objects such as prey.
  • This is called Spy-Hopping.
  • A theory as to why the sharks may perform this unusual act is because smells travel faster in air then in the water and that is the Great White Shark’s primary way of finding their prey.

Left: An example of a Great White Shark spy-hopping.

  • A breach is the result of a high speed approach to the surface with the momentum taking the Great White Shark partially clear of the water.
  • It is an effective hunting technique used against seals, who swim on the surface and the great white sharks launch their predatory attack from the deeper water below.
  • The Great White Sharks can reach speeds of up to 40 kilometres per hour and can at times launch themselves more than 3 metres into the air.
  • About 50% of these predatory acts result in an successful hunt.

Right: A stunning example of the Great White Shark’s strength and agility used for the breach.

you are what you eat
You Are What You Eat!
  • Despite common belief, Great White Sharks are not indiscriminate eating machines, they most certainly do not actively hunt humans.
  • These apex predators deliberately target prey with fat-rich bodies to more effectively fuel themselves, humans are not fat-rich like seals etc.
  • They are obvious carnivores; targeting animals like cetaceans, pinnipeds, large fish, sea turtles and sea birds.
  • Upon reaching 4 metres the Great White Sharks tend to target larger marine mammals.

Right: Great White Shark feeding on whale carcass.

the art of love
The Art Of Love...
  • There is almost nothing known about the reproduction of Great White Sharks, though some evidence points towards the near-soporific effect of a large feast, such as a whale carcass, possibly inducing mating.
  • Great White Sharks reach sexual maturity at around 15 years of age.
  • Mating and birthing of these sharks has never been witnessed, however, pregnant females have been examined.
  • Great white sharks are ovoviviparous which means eggs develop and hatch in the uterus and continue to develop until birth.
  • The great white has an 11-month gestation period. The shark pup's powerful jaws begin to develop in the first month.
  • The unborn sharks participate in intrauterine cannibalism; stronger pups consume their weaker womb-mates, therefore ensuring that only the strongest animals make it out into the wide world.
  • Delivery for the pups is in spring and summer.
  • These little sharks are miniatures of their parents, and promptly leave their mothers, able to fend for themselves.
great white sharks and humans
Great White Sharks And Humans.
  • Great White Sharks DO NOT actively hunt humans.
  • Their preferred pray is fatty animals, such as marine mammals and large fish.
  • Most deaths of humans in the jaws of a shark are a result of mistaken identity, and most bites are what are known as ‘test bites’ as Great White Shark’s have sensors in their mouths, after determining that it is not the prey it is looking for, the shark will often leave the person alone. It is purely due to the animal’s large size that a human will die from a bite.
  • Humans, conversely, also enjoy a tourism, diving both in a cage and not with these fish is popular off of South Australia and South Africa, perhaps a bright sign for the future.

Right: Great White Shark cave diving.

need for research
Need For Research...
  • Most information in this educational video is research from South Africa, with there being next to nothing being researched in Western Australian waters, where the sharks are instead being threatened.
  • Great White Sharks are an endangered species due to sport/revenge fishing, trophy hunting for teeth and jaws, also it’s flesh and fins are considered valuable in the black market trade of such things.
  • In combination with this, the Great White Shark, has a low rate of reproduction and is relatively slow to reach sexual maturity.
  • This results in the creature being as endangered as the tiger.

Right: An abused baby Great White Shark.

At Western Australian’s for Shark Conservation (WASC) we push for shark research and education.
  • Rather then culling of an endangered species and allowing lawful export of shark finning, we wish for sharks to be enjoyed by all and for them to be allowed an environment in which they can live naturally.
  • If people would travel to northern Western Australia, Australia and travel to Cape Town, South Africa to visit these magnificent animals, why not the South West, Western Australia?
  • At WASC, we speak for those who cannot speak for themselves, and defend those who are defenceless.
  • If you wish to help our shark friends please visit the facebook page by searching Western Australians for Shark Conservation or visit the website
Produced And Directed By

Alicia Phillips.

Veterinary Nurse, Shark Enthusiast and Education Coordinator for WASC.