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Great White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias)

By: C.M.Shorter

The Great White Shark, ultimate apex predator with no natural enemies, is one of the most powerful, awesome and feared Sharks inhabiting our ocean waters. Great Whites, also known as "White Death" are extremely dangerous predators and have a reputation of being man-eaters. These cold-blooded, tornado shaped, massive eating machines instill great fear among men. These giant sea creatures command respect achieving lengths of 18-21 feet and weighing in at an average of 3,000 lbs with some Great Whites reaching recorded shark weights of almost 7,000 lbs. The Whale Shark, although a docile plankton feeder, is the largest Shark in the world reaching over 60-80 ft in length.

Great White Shark Picture
Great White Shark
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Images of the Great White Shark attacking almost anything in its path with a relentless mouth wide open approach and eyes rolled back were made famous in the 1975 Hollywood blockbuster movie "Jaws". Based on Peter Benchley's best selling book & screenplay, who can forget Robert Shaw as Quint, revealing the horrific story of the factual ill-fated World War II crew of the 1945 military naval warship, the U.S.S. Indianapolis. Torpedoed after a top-secret mission delivering an atomic bomb to Japan, 1,199 crewmen went overboard, only 316 survived. The men struggled in the water for days against one the most vicious Shark Attacks ever known to man. It is estimated that over 700 men were eaten alive by several types of Sharks, including Great Whites & Tiger Sharks also known to be aggressive. Richard Dreyfuss and Roy Scheider were equally impressive as the team battling the mechanical "Great White Shark" attacks giving us the memorable line "We need a bigger boat"!

Great White Sharks, top apex predators of the ocean, inhabit all the world's Ocean waters. Great Whites are known to frequent the coral reefs of Australia's Great Barrier Reef, the coastlines of California and South Africa with many recorded Shark attacks in these waters. The International Shark Attack File (ISAF) shows documentation of 109 recorded shark attacks worldwide in 2004, with 61 being unprovoked and about one-half of those (30) were attributed to Great White Shark attacks. It is ironic that man is much more dangerous to the Sharks than they are to us. Study of the Great White is made through scientific research observation stations such as the one set up in the Farallon Islands, 30 miles off the coast of San Francisco in the Great White Shark's known feeding grounds. The Farallon Islands and the waters off the coast of southern California are home to a large population of sea lion and elephant seals (Pinnipeds), a favorite food source for the Great White Shark. Shark attack victims are approached unseen from underneath, with decapitation being the normal method of kill before consumption. Great Whites also make meals eating other Fish, Dolphin, Otters, other Sharks, Sea Turtles and Squid and have been seen dining on Beluga & Killer Whales, and feeding on floating whale carcasses and carrion. Stomach contents of Great Whites examined have contained everything from shoes to tin cans. Humans are not part of their normal diet and recorded shark attacks often show a case of mistaken identity, particularly surfers paddling out on surfboards being mistaken for seals with sharks usually quickly releasing the victim. It is interesting to note that more humans are killed each year by dogs than by all Great White Shark attacks combined in the last 100 years!

Sharks and Rays are some of the earth's oldest fish with the two groups sharing a common ancestor evolving from placoderms (primitive jawed fishes) over 400 million years ago. Distant relatives are also the Megalodon or Megatooth Shark, and these creatures have been swimming the ocean waters long before the first dinosaur walked on land. Sharks have large brains with a learning rate comparable to the white rat or pigeon. A Shark's eye is constructed to distinguish colors, seven times more powerful than a human eye and some Shark corneas have been used to replace human corneas. Like all Sharks, Great Whites bodies are composed of cartilage which leaves no skeletal fossil remains so all study of ancient ancestors can be made only by shark tooth examination.

Although Sharks and Rays look different to the untrained eye, both share the same kind of skin of small tooth-like spikes called "denticles". These spikes are so sharp carpenters have long used Shark Skin as sandpaper. Both Sharks and Rays have acute senses of smell and the keen ability to detect even the mildest current of electrical charge. All Sharks have excellent olfactory capabilities - live swimming noses! Great White's nostrils are divided by a skin flap with water current flowing in one side and out the other passing over sensory organs called lamellae which give it great scent tracking ability. It is the tiny black pore-like markings covering the nose called the "ampullae of Lorenzini" filled with a gel-like substance that gives the Great White the ability to sense extremely low electrical field discharges. Both are evolutionary adaptations enabling the Great White to detect and identify condition of prey, particularly for honing in on struggling or wounded animals.

Most sharks must keep moving to breathe and stay alive with forward movement allowing oxygen in the water to be absorbed through their gills. Sharks and Rays share some very interesting reproduction methods. Some Sharks are egg-bearing (oviparous) releasing up to a hundreds eggs at a time, usually in coastal nurseries. Others are ovoviviparous with a thin-shelled membrane covering a group of eggs called a "candle" which the mother retains for sometime before release. Our deep-dwelling sharks bear relatively few live young (viviparous) giving birth to perhaps just one or two pups. In the instance of the live-bearing Blue Shark, Baby Sharks grow inside their mother consuming meals of their brothers and sisters before ever exiting the birth canal. Many scientists believe this exhibit of pre-birth cannibalism serves as testimony to the survival of the fittest.

The slow reproduction rate is one reason for ever declining populations of the world's great Sharks. Worldwide fishing fleets kill over 100 million Sharks a year. It is humans who deplete the stock by trophy hunting, overfishing of ocean waters, use of prawn trawlers & fish nets, commercial longliners and the abhorrent practice of "shark-finning" where hot metal blades are used to shear off only the Shark's fins. The live Sharks are tossed back to descend to a certain death. Many liken this atrocity to the clubbing of baby seals where pups are harvested for their fur alone. The Asian delicacy of "Shark-Fin Soup" is receiving more and more opposition everyday, like the poaching of Tigers, with many countries taking legislative action to protect the Sharks from this wasteful, inhumane processing. Scientists identify many species of Sharks, including the Great White Shark as "Keystone" species in the marine ecosystem meaning a reduction or change in their number has wide-ranging consequences for other ocean species.

In 1997 Australia declared the Great White Shark and Grey Nurse Shark endangered and the Great White Shark is currently listed on Cites Appendix II.

Great White Shark Taxonomy & Description >>
See also: Great White Shark Pictures | Great White Shark Teeth

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