Three little words that strike fear into the most intrepid adventurer, the strongest man and the biggest adrenaline junkie. Three little words that make life time surfers perspire in their wetsuits while on their boards, and take the breath of experienced divers away! Three little words that have mother’s holding a little tighter to their children and father’s swearing to protect to their last breath. Three little words that have caused the death of hundreds of thousands and screwed with our eco-systems! And those three little words: Great White Shark!
Great White Sharks didn’t get to be so very terrifying without reason. They are known to eat seals, sea lions, sea turtles and small whales… pretty chilling when you think that the smallest whale, the dwarf sperm whale, is a sizeable fellow of almost three metres in length, weighing about two hundred and fifty kilograms. (Note that humans are NOT included in this list.) Be warned: it’s not only their diet that’s large! Great White Sharks can grow to a little over six metres and weigh over two thousand kilograms, making them the largest predatory fish in all the ocean.
It was believed by many that Great White Sharks evolved from the colossal fossil, the Megalodon, which had six inch teeth and was roughly the size of a bus. Fossilised Megalodon teeth that date back to over twenty million years ago have been found on ancient sea beds. Imagine a tooth bigger than your hand! It is only these very teeth that prove the Megalodon’s existence, as a skeleton has never been found. And it is these very teeth that allow scientists to safely assume that the Great White Sharks is a descendant of the Megalodon. Teeth from both species have a similar structure, with saw-like edges that are best for munching mammals. It’s easy to see why people have associated these two enormous carnivores with one another, however, a new study suggests that the Great White Shark may not be related to the Megalodon at all.
This study found that Great White Sharks may in fact be a closer relative to the Mako family, which is a smaller breed of shark but that does not make them any less memorable. Mako sharks are the fastest sharks in the world, traveling at speeds of over ninety-six kilometres per hour, for long and as yet unrecorded distances! The new fossil discovery shows teeth that are somewhere between the smooth-edged ones of the fish eating Mako ancestor and the rugged ones of today’s Great White Shark, providing a solid evolutionary link between the two.
The Short-finned Mako shark has never in recorded history attacked a human being.
Let that settle in. Could the new-found knowledge that the Great White Shark may be a variation of the Mako tell us more about the temperament of these sharks we fear with such vehemence? Could these sharks, that terrorise the nightmares of many, actually be a much gentler breed than we dare to credit them for? As a matter of fact, I can guarantee that you have been seen by more sharks in your life time than you have seen with your own eyes. So, looking at the facts, I’d say yes. It tells us that as long as we are cautious, as we should be with all wildlife, we may not have so much to fear after all.
Till we meet again, Keep that toothy grin!
By Nadine Bentley