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The Great White Shark

Larry Slawson received his master's degree at UNC Charlotte. He specializes in Russian and Ukrainian history.

Large Great White spotted among a group of fish

Large Great White spotted among a group of fish

Great White Sharks

  • Name: Great White Shark
  • Binomial Name: Carcharodon Carcharias
  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Chondrichthyes
  • Order: Lamniformes
  • Family: Lamnidae
  • Genus: Carcharodon (A. Smith, 1838)
  • Species: C. Carcharias
  • Conservation Status: Vulnerable
  • Synonyms: Squalus carcharius (Linnaeus, 1758); Carharodon Carcharias (Linnaeus, 1758); Squalus caninus (Osbeck, 1765); Carcharias lamia (Rafinesque, 1810); Carcharias verus (Cloquet, 1817); Squalus vulgaris (Richardson, 1836); Carcharias vulgaris (Richardson, 1836); Carcharodon smithii (Agassiz, 1838); Carcharodon smithi (Bonaparte, 1838); Carcharodon rondeletii (Muller and Henle, 1839); Carcharodon capensis (Smith, 1839); Carcharias atwoodi (Storer, 1848); Carcharias maso (Morris, 1898); Carcharodon albimors (Whitley, 1939)
  • Average Lifespan: Seventy Years

Behavioral Traits and Characteristics of the Great White

The “Great White Shark,” also referred to as the “Great White,” “White Shark,” and “White Pointer,” is a species of shark found along the coastal regions of all the world’s major oceans. Growing to lengths of twenty feet, and weighing approximately 4,200 pounds at maturity, the Great White is a species of shark to be reckoned with.

The Great White, in more recent years, has been added to the IUCN list as a vulnerable species due to their steady decline in numbers. It is also protected by several international governments, including Australia (2018). First described by Linnaeus in 1758, its scientific name is derived from the ancient Greek words Karkharos and odous, which mean “sharp” and “tooth,” respectively. It is believed that the Great White has been around since the mid-Miocene era, approximately sixteen million years ago, and may be related to the prehistoric shark known as the Megalodon.

A Great White spotted in the ocean deep. Notice the shark's incredible size and razor-sharp teeth

A Great White spotted in the ocean deep. Notice the shark's incredible size and razor-sharp teeth

Great White Characteristics and Behavior

The Great White Shark is well known for its large snout as well as its impressive array of jagged teeth. They are often described as bluish-grey, with a white underbelly, which makes them difficult to spot underwater. Although the average size of Great Whites is twenty-two feet, a few specimens have been discovered over the last century with lengths of nearly thirty-seven feet. However, these reports are debatable as they were never confirmed by the scientific community.

Despite countless hours of observation, the social structure and behavior of the Great White are not well understood. However, some researchers believe that a “dominance hierarchy” may exist with the Great White that is dependent upon its overall sex and gender. Females tend to dominate the males, whereas larger sharks tend to be more dominant over the smaller Great Whites. Great Whites are also one of the few species of sharks to lift their head above water to examine potential prey. Some researchers speculate that surfacing allows the Great White to hone in on particular smells better.

The Great White is quite curious, by nature, and displays a significant level of intelligence. Scientists have even observed the Great White engaging in social behavior with other Great Whites, as well as developing clans of two to six sharks that can last upwards of a year. Similar to wolf packs, researchers believe that these clans possess a well-defined ranking system, with the alpha serving as their leader.

Great White surfacing

Great White surfacing

Great White Shark Habitat

Great White Sharks live along all of the world’s coastal waters and prefer to stay in waters with an average temperature between fifty-four and seventy-five degrees (Fahrenheit). Current research indicates that most Great Whites appear to be found off the coast of the United States as well as Japan, South Africa, Chile, and the Mediterranean Sea.

The Great White is considered an “epipelagic” fish, which means that it prefers open waters. Despite their preference for coastal waters, however, some Great Whites have been spotted at depths of approximately 3,900 feet. These sharks rarely remain in one place though, as a 2018 study showed that large numbers of Great Whites traveled upwards of 12,000 miles in less than nine months. This revelation challenged the notion that Great Whites are territorial, and indicates that the sharks may engage in migratory patterns.

Shark Quote

"We provoke a shark every time we enter the water where sharks happen to be, for we forget: The ocean is not our territory - it's theirs."

— Peter Benchley

Prey and Natural Predators

As a carnivorous species, the Great White Shark tends to prey on fish and mammals of various sizes. These include various fish, tuna, whales, dolphins, other sharks, seals, sea turtles, and porpoises. As these sharks continue to grow in size, however, their appetite for larger prey also grows. Larger prey include whales such as “Pygmy Sperm Whale” and “beaked whales” often fall victim to larger Great White attacks. Natural predators of the Great White are few and far between but include the occasional attack by Killer Whales as well as larger Great Whites. Attacks by Killer Whales remain rare, however, and may only result from competition for food sources.

Despite the hyper-awareness of Great Whites created by the movie Jaws, fatalities from the sharks are relatively rare. Nevertheless, unprovoked bites by the Great White are the greatest of all shark species, with nearly 272 documented bites in the year 2012, alone (worldwide).



The Great White tends to reach sexual maturity at the age of 26, while females do not reach maturity until the age of 33. Possessing a low reproductive rate along with a long gestation rate of eleven months, the Great White population remains vulnerable to environmental changes and overfishing.

Very little is known about the birthing process of Great Whites (as birth has never been observed). However, scientists do know that females possess eggs that develop and grow until birth. Delivery is also believed to occur during the spring and summer months, with multiple pups being born from a single mother (the highest number recorded being fourteen).

There's Still More to Learn

In closing, the Great White Shark is one of the most fascinating marine animals in the world due to its large size, predatory behavior, and extensive aggrandizement by popular culture (such as movies and books). Despite decades of observation by scientists, there is still much to be learned about the Great Whites, their social behaviors, as well as reproductive processes. With new and exciting research expeditions currently underway, it will be interesting to see what new facts can be learned about this extraordinary creature in the years and decades to come.

Work Cited

Articles / Books:

Wikipedia contributors, "Great white shark," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed July 3, 2019).

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 Larry Slawson


Larry Slawson (author) from North Carolina on July 20, 2019:

Haha, that's funny Vivian. Jaws is one of those movies that has a lasting impact on you, I think. I'm still very cautious about wading into the ocean after watching those movies haha!

Vivian Coblentz on July 20, 2019:

I let my daughter watch the first 3 Jaws movies this summer for the first time--AFTER our trip to Wrightsville Beach. We had enjoyed catching the waves at the beach, but then one of the movie characters said shark attacks typically happen in 3 feet of water, 10 feet away from shore. Yikes! I'm glad we survived!

Great, informative article!

Larry Slawson (author) from North Carolina on July 03, 2019:

Haha, Jaws was definitely coming to mind for me as well haha.

Liz Westwood from UK on July 03, 2019:

Jaws springs to mind. Great illustrations and interesting information about these amazing creatures that we underestimate at our peril.