Marine Wildlife Encyclopedia
Great White Shark Carcharodon carcharias
The great white shark is one of the most powerful predators in the ocean and has a reputation as a killing machine. In fact, this shark is intelligent and capable of complex social interactions. It is, however, first and foremost a predator, feeding on prey that ranges from small fish to tuna, marine mammals (such as porpoises, seals, and sea lions), and birds (such as gannets and penguins).
The great white shark's powerful, tapered body and crescent-shaped tail are designed for sudden, swift attack, which may occur with such momentum that the shark leaves the water. It can sustain high speeds even in cold waters because it can maintain a body temperature well above that of the surrounding water due to adaptations in its circulatory system. This means that the great white shark’s metabolism is more efficient than that of other sharks, allowing it to swim faster and with greater endurance.
Large numbers of great white sharks are attracted to areas where there are sea mammal colonies, such as off South Africa. Satellite tags have shown that they can migrate huge distances. Great white shark numbers are declining due to sport fishing, netting, and commercial bycatch.
Great White Shark Attacks
The great white shark has made more unprovoked attacks on humans than any other shark. However, humans are not its natural prey and many such attacks can be put down to the shark mistaking a diver for a seal or turtle. When stimulated by bait in the water, white sharks will bite anything, even a metal diving cage.
Threats to Great White Sharks
Due to severe overfishing, great white sharks are listed as “Vulnerable” on the IUCN’s Red List. Even though they are protected internationally under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), great white sharks continue to be targeted for their teeth and jaws, which are sold on the black market.
What Oceana Does to Protect Great White Sharks
Oceana has partnered with the Center for Biological Diversity, Shark Stewards, and Wild Earth Guardians to get the U.S. West Coast population of great white sharks protected under the California and federal Endangered Species Act. Learn more about Oceana's work to protect great white sharks at oceana.org/whitesharks.