Sharks & Rays
Worldwide in tropical to cold temperate latitudes
Coastal to open ocean (pelagic)
Order Lamniformes (mackerel sharks and relatives), Family Lamnidae (mackerel sharks)
The white shark, named for its stark white underbelly, is perhaps one of the most recognizable shark species today. Known more commonly as the great white shark, this is one of the largest species of sharks with an estimated maximum length of 20 feet (6.1 m), weighing over 4,000 pounds (1,814 kg) fully grown. Like other “mackerel sharks,” the white shark has a torpedo-shaped body and a crescent-shaped caudal fin. They are highly migratory animals, with populations regularly traipsing routes between South Africa and Australasia as well as from California to the Hawaiian Islands.
Though almost all fishes are cold-blooded, white sharks have a specialized blood vessel structure – called a countercurrent exchanger – that allows them to maintain a body temperature that is higher than the surrounding water. This allows them to remain active in cold waters, an advantage when hunting fast, warm-blooded mammals such as seals, sea lions, and dolphins. Other prey includes fishes, other sharks, and squid. While great whites are one of the few species known to have bitten and killed people, these events are extremely rare. Typically, when a white shark does bite a person, it only takes one exploratory bite and quickly realizes that the person is not its preferred prey. Unfortunately, even an exploratory bite can be potentially fatal or traumatic.
Female white sharks reach sexual maturity around 33 years old, with males reaching maturity at approximately 26 years old. Females give live birth to their pups, with litter sizes reportedly ranging from 2-17 individuals. A white shark pup is about 4 feet long when born. White sharks reproduce slowly, with a female giving birth only once about every 3 years. These low reproductive rates are just one factor that contributes to the white shark’s vulnerable status. Though they are apex predators with very few natural threats, human-made threats such as bycatch and the cruel practice of shark finning have had a significant impact on the white shark’s population status.
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