Great White Shark Facts

16 Great White Shark Facts About The Famous Marine Predator

This shark species, one of the ocean's most notorious dwellers, has always sparked a mix of curiosity and fear in people around the globe. In our comprehensive list of great white shark facts, we'll uncover truths about their biology, behavior, and conservation.

Behind their large size and fearsome reputation, great white sharks are more than what meets the eye. They are fascinatingly complex, intelligent creatures that are essential to marine ecosystems. We'll explore their incredible abilities and habits, like their fantastic sense of smell, unusual heat exchange system, exceptional hunting skills, and migration patterns.

By shedding light on these misunderstood creatures through the following facts about great white sharks, we hope to inspire a deeper appreciation for their role in the ocean's delicate balance. So join us as we uncover the secrets of one of nature's most impressive marine predators.

Related: If you want to discover other shark species, save our article about the different types of shark species.

16 Surprising Great White Shark Facts

great white shark fact intro
Photo by Elias Levy on Flickr CC BY 2.0 (Cropped from original)

1. The great white shark is the largest predatory fish on Earth

To start off this great white shark fact list, let's start with numbers. These massive creatures measure up to 21 feet long and weigh as much as 5,000 pounds. These numbers garnered them the title of the largest predatory fish on Earth. Interstingly, females are generally larger than their male counterparts. 

Their massive size enables them to hunt and consume a diverse range of prey species and cements their status as apex predators (just like killer whales) in ocean ecosystems. They boast streamlined, torpedo-shaped bodies, which help them become an efficient hunter. This hydrodynamic design reduces water resistance, allowing them to easily cut through the water and propelling them forward at impressive speeds. 

Despite their seemingly large size, these predatory sharks have a top speed of 15 miles per hour (24 kilometers per hour). Their agility allows them to successfully hunt seals, sea lions, large fish species, and other sharks.

2. Great white sharks have several names

bottom view great white shark
Photo by Karen Zhang on Unsplash

Several names know the great white shark, each reflecting unique aspects of its appearance and behavior. Among these, the "white pointer" stands out, referring to the shark's habit of approaching its prey with its dorsal fin protruding above the water's surface. This behavior often creates an ominous sight for onlookers, contributing to the creature's mystique.

Furthermore, the names "white shark" and "white death" emphasize the distinct white coloration on the shark's underbelly. In scientific classification, the specie's Latin name is Carcharodon carcharias. This name combines Greek and Latin roots: "karcharos" (sharp) and "odon" (tooth) refer to the shark's formidable, serrated teeth. Meanwhile, the Latin term "carcharias" simply means "shark."

3. They use electricity to locate prey

The ampullae of Lorenzini is a unique organ that gives great whites the extraordinary ability to detect even the faintest electrical fields produced by the movement of prey5. This organ consists of tiny, jelly-filled pores on the snout, connected to nerves that send electrical signals to the shark's brain. As a result, they can pinpoint their next meal with exceptional accuracy.

In low-visibility situations, the ampullae of Lorenzini become especially valuable.s. This incredible organ allows them to sense the heartbeat and muscle contractions of prey hiding under the sand or obscured by the environment. 

By detecting these subtle electrical signals, great white sharks can home in on their target and strike precisely, even when other senses like vision or smell are less effective. Other cartilaginous fish, such as rays and skates, also possess this organ, though not with the same capabilities as a great white. An impressive and frightening great white shark fact. Do you agree?

4. Great white sharks have an impressive sense of smell

underwater great white shark with fish
Photo by Elias Levy on Flickr CC BY 2.0 (Cropped from original)

As most people know, the great white shark possesses an extraordinary sense of smell. Imagine detecting a single drop of blood within a staggering 26 gallons of water! That's precisely what these apex predators can do, allowing them to zero in on their prey from considerable distances, even in murky waters or low light conditions.

As these sharks rely on their remarkable olfactory prowess, they can track injured or distressed prey from miles away. Working in tandem with their other sensory systems, like their lateral line and sharp hearing, the apex predator accurately pinpoints the location of potential prey. 

As the shark nears its target, the concentration of chemical signals in the water intensifies, enabling it to close in with remarkable precision. Their directional smelling ability adds another layer of expertise to their hunting skills, as they quickly determine the scent's direction by detecting concentration differences between their two nostrils.

Male great white sharks use their impressive olfactory system to sense the presence of potential mates and rivals, ensuring the continuation of their species.

5. Great white sharks have serrated teeth

The serrated triangular teeth of great white sharks truly showcase the marvels of natural engineering. Shaped like jagged triangles, these razor-sharp teeth effortlessly cut through flesh and bone, allowing the sharks to grasp and slice their prey efficiently. 

The serrated edges act like a saw, enabling great white sharks to tear off large chunks of flesh from their prey with minimal effort. These sharks possess an impressive arsenal of approximately 300 teeth in multiple rows. 

Like a conveyor belt, new teeth emerge from the back rows to replace the worn or broken teeth in front. This constant tooth replacement ensures the shark maintains its formidable bite throughout its lifetime.

Interestingly, the teeth of great white sharks serve different functions based on their location within the jaws. Much like a fork and knife working together during a meal, the teeth in the lower jaw primarily act as anchors, gripping onto slippery prey. In contrast, the upper jaw teeth are responsible for cutting and slicing. 

6. Great white sharks are ambush predators

closeup great white shark teeth
Photo by Fallows C on Wikimedia Commons CC BY 2.5 (Cropped from original)

The great white shark is a master of ambush predation, cementing its spot at the top of the ocean's food chain. They employ a unique hunting strategy known as breaching. These apex predators swiftly propel themselves from the depths, launching their massive bodies out of the water to catch unsuspecting prey.  

They are skillful in using stealth and speed to catch their prey by surprise. Their grey and white coloration allows them to blend effortlessly with the ocean floor. It is a perfect camouflage while they wait for unsuspecting prey.

Once prey is detected, they rocket toward the surface with incredible agility. They achieve this rapid acceleration thanks to their powerful tails, propelling them at up to 25 miles per hour. Consequently, their prey often has little to no time to react before the shark's jaws clamp down on them. 

Attacking from below offers several advantages for these skillful predators. First, it lets them stay hidden from their prey until the last possible moment, maximizing the element of surprise. This tactic also reduces the need for lengthy chases, conserving energy and making it an efficient hunting strategy. 

7. They primarily eat seals and sea lions

The largest predatory shark mainly feeds on marine mammals such as seals and sea lions. They're plentiful in the shark's hunting grounds and offer high-fat content essential for its energy reserves. 

However, these colossal predators have a broader menu, including other marine mammals like dolphins, sea turtles, and even small whales. Besides that, they also enjoy a diverse menu that includes various fish species, other sharks, and rays. Scavenging is another feeding behavior; they can eat carcasses like dead whales, which serve as a nutrient-rich food source and help maintain the balance of the marine ecosystem.

Great white sharks employ impressive hunting strategies tailored to the target's type and size when capturing their prey. In contrast, when pursuing larger prey like small whales, they rely on their remarkable strength and endurance to subdue their quarry.

Related: There's another animal whose favorite meal is a seal. Know more about them in our curated polar bear facts.

8. They have a unique heat exchange system

closeup of shark in blue water
Photo by Bernard DUPONT on Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0 (Cropped from original)

Unlike most shark species, the White Shark is warm-blooded. The largest predatory fish can keep its body temperature higher than the surrounding water thanks to its unique circulatory system called countercurrent heat exchange. 

This fascinating system features networks of veins and arteries running parallel to one another, allowing heat transfer between them. As the warm arterial blood flows towards the gills, it passes on its heat to the cold venous blood returning from the gills, preventing heat loss to the chilly ocean waters. This process can raise their body temperature by up to 14°F above the water temperature2.

This ingenious heat exchange system offers the great white shark more than thermal comfort. With an elevated body temperature, the shark enjoys enhanced muscle function, swift swimming speeds, and superior predatory performance, giving it a distinct advantage over cold-blooded marine creatures. Moreover, this system allows the shark to digest its meals more efficiently, extracting maximum energy from its food.

The countercurrent heat exchange system also gives the great white shark remarkable adaptability across various habitats and temperatures. Because of that, their distribution is diverse, from icy polar waters to warm tropical seas. Thanks to their efficient heat exchange system, they also maintain their hunting prowess while moving between different regions. However, they spend most of their time in temperate waters.   Moreover, they can enjoy a steady supply of prey and minimize competition with other marine predators like killer whales. 

Did the Great White Shark facts leave you wanting more? Plunge into the second half of the list for more.

9. They are migratory animals

great white shark on water surface
Photo by Alex Steyn on Unsplash

These fearsome creatures display remarkable migratory abilities. They often travel thousands of miles in search of food and mating partners. Not only do their impressive voyages highlight their exceptional navigational skills and endurance, but they also demonstrate their adaptability to various aquatic environments.

Take, for example, the striking journey of some great white sharks between California and Hawaii or the western coast of Mexico. These vast odysseys are driven by the pursuit of nutrient-rich feeding grounds teeming with food. 

Moreover, specific individuals have traveled an astounding 6,000 miles (9,656 kilometers) from South Africa to Australia within just a few months3. These lengthy migrations likely result from the sharks' desire to find both food sources and mating opportunities.

It's worth mentioning that not all follow the same migratory patterns. Other sharks prefer to stay within a more localized region, while others embark on epic voyages. Satellite tracking and tagging studies have significantly expanded our knowledge of migratory patterns and great white shark distribution.

Related: Head to our whale facts for more long-distance migrating sea creatures.

10. Baby sharks eat their siblings inside the womb.

This fact about great white shark pups is shocking! Mothers reproduce through a remarkable process called ovoviviparity. Embryos develop inside eggs within the mother's body, offering protection and nourishment until they hatch internally. In this environment, shark pups engage in intrauterine cannibalism or oophagy, consuming unfertilized eggs and smaller embryos to bolster their strength.

As the embryos grow within the womb, they develop specialized teeth and voracious appetites. Ultimately, they compete for resources and devour weaker siblings, ensuring the survival of the fittest. Following this competition, the mother shark bears live independent pups. Already equipped as adept hunters, these young predators seamlessly join the ocean's ecosystem.

11. Great white sharks have a low reproductive rate.

Great white shark populations expand remarkably slowly, partly due to females only reproducing every two to three years. This reproductive cycle is significantly slower than many other marine species. Females give birth to a relatively small litter of pups, usually from two to ten, further contributing to their slow population growth.

The extended period between reproductive cycles results from the energy and resources required for gestation and pup development. With a gestation period of about 12 to 18 months, females need ample time to recover and replenish their energy reserves before starting another reproductive cycle. 

However, this slow reproductive rate also makes great white shark populations highly sensitive to human threats, such as overfishing, bycatch, and habitat degradation.

12. They have a long lifespan

Great white sharks boast impressive size, predatory skills, and remarkable longevity. They live for up to 70 years, making them one of the longest-lived sharks in the vast ocean. To determine a great white shark's age, scientists turn to a fascinating process that involves studying their vertebrae. Like tree trunks with their growth rings, shark vertebrae accumulate rings as they age. 

Researchers can obtain these samples from deceased sharks or use non-lethal biopsy techniques for collection. By examining and counting these growth rings, scientists can estimate the age of individual sharks and gain valuable insights into the demographics and age distribution within the species4.

Their long lives offer ample opportunities to reproduce, maintaining healthy populations and genetic diversity within their species. However, this extended lifespan also heightens their vulnerability to threats such as overfishing and habitat loss.

13. They have glow-in-the-dark eyes

Did you know this predator's eyes "glow in the dark"? Their eyes have a unique structure called the tapetum lucidum. Located just behind the retina, this layer consists of reflective cells. 

As light passes through the retina, the tapetum lucidum reflects it onto the light-sensitive cells, amplifying the faintest glimmers in the ocean's dark depths. This enhances the shark's vision in low-light conditions.

This adaptation gives the great white shark a significant advantage in detecting prey in dimly lit or murky waters. While other marine animals may struggle to navigate in the darkness, great white sharks can rely on their extraordinary vision to detect potential prey with remarkable accuracy. 

Interestingly, the tapetum lucidum is not unique to these sharks. Moreover, the color of the glow emitted by the tapetum lucidum can vary, depending on the angle of the light source and the specific composition of the reflective cells in each shark. 

14. They have toxic blood

shark lured by seal bait
Photo by Bernard DUPONT on Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0 (Cropped from original)

Researchers have found that a great white shark's blood contains exceptionally high levels of toxic heavy metals like arsenic and mercury. They speculated that they had developed methods to bind the heavy metals to specific proteins, thereby reducing potential harm1.

What's fascinating is that these powerful creatures remain unharmed by concentrations of these chemicals that would be lethal to many other animals. What is the reason behind this remarkable adaptation? It might lie in the great white sharks' choice of prey. Feasting primarily on marine mammals, these sharks unintentionally consume heavy metals that build up in their prey's tissues. 

Over time, these metals travel up the food chain through a process known as bioaccumulation, resulting in higher concentrations in these sharks. While these heavy metals can wreak havoc on other animals' nervous and immune systems, great white sharks have evolved unique ways to detoxify their systems. 

The researchers speculate that they have developed methods to bind the heavy metals to specific proteins, thereby reducing potential harm1.

15. Great white shark attacks are rare

This is a great white shark fact everyone should learn. As we all know, they have gained popularity in movies and TV shows, often depicted as frightening and menacing creatures. Blockbuster films like "Jaws" and TV events such as "Shark Week" perpetuate negative stereotypes, instilling fear and generating misconceptions about these magnificent marine animals. Consequently, the media has crafted an unwarranted, fearsome reputation for sharks.

In contrast, sharks are genuinely curious animals, keen on exploring their surroundings. Shark researcher R. Aidan Martin emphasizes that shark attacks on humans significantly differ from their attacks on seal prey. Great white sharks approach humans leisurely, without their typical immense force and power. Clearly, they are not hunting humans but instead investigating them.

Interestingly, there have been cases where great white sharks bite boats, likely due to confusion or curiosity. For instance, in 1936, a large shark leapt completely onto the South African fishing boat Lucky Jim, inadvertently knocking a crew member into the sea. While these incidents may be frightening for those involved, it's essential to recognize that sharks are not malicious but instead are trying to make sense of an unfamiliar object in their environment.

Remarkably, the probability of a shark attack is minimal, with the odds at approximately 1 in 11.5 million. More individuals succumb to choking on food or lighting strikes than shark attacks. Therefore, it's crucial to comprehend the rarity of these encounters and develop an accurate understanding of these creatures. Public education plays a vital role in fostering conservation and debunking the myths perpetuated by popular culture.

16. Great white sharks are listed as "Vulnerable" on the IUCN Red List

shark eating bait
Photo by Elias Levy on Flickr CC BY 2.0 (Cropped from original)

Great white sharks are vital in maintaining the marine ecosystem's balance. As apex predators, they regulate the weaker animals, which helps control overpopulation and preserve species diversity. Their presence also affects predators' behaviors, reducing localized prey depletion and promoting a healthy environment.

Despite their essential role, great white sharks hold the conservation status vulnerable in the IUCN Red List. Overfishing, depletion of food sources, and accidental catching in fishing gear threaten their survival. Conservation efforts include tracking programs, marine protected areas, and stricter regulations to reduce bycatch. Public awareness campaigns are crucial to dispel misconceptions and advocate for their protection.

Related: Did you expand your knowledge with our facts about the great white shark? Check our lion facts next for more apex predator trivia. Or to further explore the animal kingdom, check out some of the other animals that start with G.

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1

Merly, L., Lange, L., Meÿer, M. A., Hewitt, A., Koen, P., Fischer, C., Muller, J., Schilack, V., Wentzel, M., & Hammerschlag, N. (2019). Blood plasma levels of heavy metals and trace elements in white sharks (Carcharodon carcharias) and potential health consequences. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 142, 85–92.

2

Watanabe, Y. Y., Payne, N. C., Semmens, J. M., Fox, A. J., & Gillanders, B. M. (2019). Swimming strategies and energetics of endothermic white sharks during foraging. The Journal of Experimental Biology, 222(4).

3

Bonfil, R., Meÿer, M. A., Schöll, M., Johnson, R. F., O’Brien, S. L., Oosthuizen, H., Swanson, S., Kotze, D., & Paterson, M. (2005b). Transoceanic Migration, Spatial Dynamics, and Population Linkages of White Sharks. Science, 310(5745), 100–103.

4

Hamady, L. L., Natanson, L. J., Skomal, G. B., & Thorrold, S. R. (2014). Vertebral bomb radiocarbon suggests extreme longevity in white sharks. PLoS ONE, 9(1), e84006.

5

Kalmijn, A. J. (1971). The electric sense of sharks and rays. Journal of Experimental Biology, 55(2), 371-383.

Isabela is a determined millennial passionate about continuously seeking out ways to make an impact. With a bachelor of science degree in civil engineering with honors, Isabela’s research expertise and interest in artistic works, coupled with a creative mindset, offers readers a fresh take on different environmental, social, and personal development topics.

Fact Checked By:
Mike Gomez, BA.

Photo by MLbay on Pixabay
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