“Shark”… Few words have as much attention grabbing power. Add “Great White” to that and you will command a room. Many wait an entire lifetime to see a Great White Shark, but few want to meet one, thanks to Hollywood’s unrealistic and deceitful portrayal of the Great White, in its pursuit of fame and fortune, no image induces as much fear or signifies “death” in the water, as much as a dorsal fin!

How much do you really know about The Great White Shark? Truthfully, how much does anyone really know about this fascinating creature?

Well, I have decided to give you a couple pointers, so that you are able to speak with the best of them, and offer up some relevant and interesting titbits of Great White Shark trivia. Let’s get started…

  • Common names: Great White Shark, Great White, White Shark, White Pointer.
  • Family: Lamnidae
  • Scientific name: Carcharodon carcharias
  • Size: Great White Sharks can reach up to 7.3 m in length (as per the largest White Shark ever caught on camera in Guadeloupe) and weigh up to 2.5 tons. The males reach sexual maturity between 3.5 and 4.1 m, and the females at a much larger size of 4 and 5 m.
  • Coloration: The dorsal surface ranges from dark grey to light brown, while the underside is white.
  • Range/Distribution: The Great White Shark is one of the most widely distributed of all sharks and has been sighted in almost every region of the globe from cold seas to the tropics, and from coastal to oceanic seas. They are mainly found between the latitudes of 60° North and 60° South, in waters ranging in temperature between 14° C and 24° C. The highest concentrations of Great Whites are found in the vicinity of Cape Fur Seal colonies.
  • Reproduction: Female Great Whites give birth to between 2 and 10 live young at a time (pups), ranging from 1.1 to 1.65 m in length, after a gestation period of around 14 to 18 months.
  • Body temperature: Great White Sharks have a counter-current heat exchange system that enables it to keep vital organs up to 14°C warmer than the surrounding water.
  • Swimming speed: During ocean crossings, Great Whites keep a minimum sustained speed of around 4.7 km per hour, but they are capable of reaching speeds of up to 50 km per hour in short bursts.
  • Teeth: Great Whites have 26 broad triangular-shaped and serrated teeth in each row of the upper jaw, and 24 more pointed teeth in the lower jaw rows. Great Whites can loose and replace up to 3000 teeth in its life time.
  • Prey: Cape Fur Seals, other sharks, rays, bony fish, dolphins and whales, are the preferred meal choices for Great Whites. Their diet does change between the seasons.
  • Hunting: During the winter seasons off the coast of Cape Town, in the False Bay area specifically, the White Shark will breach the water from the depths in its pursuit of prey, as a hunting technique, which has fascinated people the world over.
  • Threats: Being perceived as the “apex predator” of the ocean, one would be excused in thinking that this creature has no threats; where in fact it faces two very real threats; 1. Humans and 2. Orcas or killer whales
  • Defence: Great White Sharks will produce a pheromone that they release into the water, when they feel threatened or are killed, this pheromone is very distinct and pungent to other Great Whites and it basically tells them to “vacate the area”, which they will do, and sometimes as far as 160km for up to 10 to 12 weeks at a time.
  • The Most Famous Great White Sharks: Deep Blue, the 7.3 meter female caught on camera off Guadeloupe. Colossus, the shy 5.5 meter bull (male), a regular visitor to False Bay’s Seal Island and finally Lucy, a 5.1 meter female who also calls Guadeloupe home.

But wait there is more…Did you know…

  1. The Great White Sharks’ teeth are more sensitive than its skin? They use their teeth to gather information when attempting a test bite
  2. The jaw of a Great White can open to 8 feet wide
  3. Great Whites will chow down on the tail fin of a deceased whale first, it’s the sharks preferred part of the whale
  4. The largest Great White ever captured was off the coast of Cuba and was 21 feet in length and weighed in at 7 328 pounds, this was in 1945 – since then Great White Sharks have been placed on the endangered list in most countries
  5. The dorsal fin of a Great White Shark helps to stabilize it, keeping it upright and not rolling over
  6. Great White Sharks (as with other sharks) when threatened or killed, will release a pheromone in to the water that will warn all the Great Whites within the vicinity to vacate – the surviving sharks have been known to swim as much as 100 miles away from the area and only return between 2 and sometimes 10 weeks later
  7. The female of the Great White Shark is referred to as a “female” while the males are called “bulls” and the juveniles; “pups”
  8. Great White Shark fossils date back to as much as 11 million years
  9. Great Whites have an “anti-tumour” gene, that scientists are hoping may lead to cancer fighting medicines in humans
  10. A Great Whites tongue has no taste buds or smell receptors of any kind, and are only used to feel the texture of their prey
  11. Great White Shark teeth were used by the ancient native Americans as arrow heads due to their triangular shape and saw-like composition
  12. Great Whites primary food course is tuna, yellowtail, smaller sharks, seals and sea lions
  13. Great White Sharks have different personalities, this is very obvious when out there doing a cage dive as some of the sharks play, while others are shy
  14. A Great White Sharks iris is actually blue and not black as is believed
  15. Great Whites roll their eyes back into their heads as they are about to attack, this is a protective measure to protect their eyes from damage
  16. Great White Sharks grow between 25 and 30 centimetres per year

So go on now, go and amaze your friends with your knowledge of the Great White Shark!

Till we meet again, keep that toothy grin!

By Nadine Bentley