Thursday, June 20, 2019

Unlocking the Mysteries of the Great white shark

by NECWA intern Emma Hoffstein

One of the most feared and misunderstood marine animals is the Great white shark. The latin name, Carcharodon carcharias, is taken from the Greek words for sharp, “karcharos” and for teeth, “odous”; the species name, carcharias, is taken from the Greek word for “to point”, which is used in the Australian Great white nickname, the White Pointer. Great whites live in waters worldwide, ranging from as far north as the Gulf of Maine to the southernmost points of New Zealand.

Great whites reach full maturity rather late in life, at around age 26 for males at a max of 16 ft, and age 30-33 for females, which can reach maximum lengths of 20 ft or more. Great whites give birth to live young called pups, each around 5 ft in length, that are totally independent from birth! Currently, there are some areas of ocean thought to be white shark nurseries, such as Long Island Sound, NY, and the Baja Coast of California. These nurseries are calm, shallow waters near enough to land that the mother can feed well after birthing, and safe for her babies to spend the first part of their lives.

White sharks feed mainly on seals and sea lions, attacking them from behind and below in a sneak attack their prey can’t see coming until it’s too late. Some populations of White sharks, notably in the warm waters off South Africa, have an unusual behavior where they breach, or jump, fully out of the water from their speedy vertical attacks. These breaching attacks are quite formidable to watch and are thought by some shark biologists to also be a way of showing off for a mate, or communicating, similar to whales and dolphins.

In general, White sharks have no natural predators due to their ferocity and large size; occasionally, Killer whales (Orcinus orca) will prey on a lone White shark, such as a juvenile, elder shark, or injured/weak individual. However, the biggest threat to the Great white are humans! Practices such as overfishing and shark finning have decimated countless shark populations worldwide; annually, 8-11 humans are killed in shark-related incidences; compared to the number of sharks killed from finning each year, which totals over 100 million, it’s not fair to persecute a curious wild animal simply because it was defending itself from the strangers—humans—invading its native habitat.

It’s humanity’s job to advocate for the countless species and individuals who cannot do it themselves, mainly animals and plants. We have the most powerful and widespread voice, and our influence can know no bounds if we put ourselves out there and fight to protect our oceans and marine animals.
For more information on Great Whites and threats to sharks, please feel free to use the following links: