Great White Shark
Carcharodon carcharias

A student web page designed by Robin Dale

 Classification
 People's Fear of Sharks
 Physical Appearance
 Food
 Habitat
 Reproduction
 Senses
 Migration
 A Shark in Captivity
 Links


Classification

Kingdom: Animalia
Plylum: Chordata
Class: Chrondrichthyes
SubClass: Elasmobranchii
Order: Lamniformes
Genus: Carchardon
Species: carcharias

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People’s Fear of Sharks

Many people have a big fear of sharks, especially Great Whites. A lot of this comes from movies like Jaws - which is based on a number of attacks that really happened in New Jersey in 1916. Some people think that there are tons of sharks waiting to eat them if they venture out into the ocean, which is simply not true. Sharks rarely ever eat humans and are solitary animals. They either travel alone or in groups of two.

Shark attacks are quite rare, in the US there are two to three non-fatal attacks on swimmers, surfers, and divers per year. By the number of reported incidents, Dogs kill more people each year than Great Whites have killed in the last 100 years. There are lots of divers who swim with sharks and are not attacked. In fact, there are places where you can be guided on a dive with sharks after just one dive lesson. They get used to people and get quite tame. Sharks are misunderstood animals.


Physical Appearance


Great White Sharks are a very large species of shark. They are streamlined swimmers, and have a torpedo-shaped body with a pointed snout.

They have about 3000 teeth, arranged in several rows. The first two rows of teeth are used for grabbing and cutting prey, while the teeth in the last rows rotate into place when front teeth are broken, worn down, or fall out. The teeth are triangularly shaped with serrations on the edges.

The back of the shark is a dull grey colour and the underside is coloured white. They have three main fins: the dorsal (on back) and two pectoral fins (on the sides). The tail is crescent shaped. There are five gill slits on Great White Sharks.

Most of the largest sharks are found in South Australia. The largest one ever recorded was 6.4m (21ft) long, and weighed 3312kg! The maximum length able to grow is thought to be 25ft. Though some people claim to have seen sharks as long as 31ft. The smallest Great White shark caught was 47 inches long, but was newly born.

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Food

Sharks are important predators in the marine ecosystem. Their favorite prey are seals and sea lions. As juveniles they eat fish, and rays. When they become full grown they eat marine animals such as whales, seals, dolphins, large tuna fish, sea otters, and dead animals that they find floating on the surface. In order to catch its food a shark will go along the sea bottom and look for shapes at the surface. If it sees something similar to the shape of a seal they charge full speed. They ram the prey and give it a first bite all in one motion, which stuns and injures the prey. It then disappears and allows the prey to bleed to death. When it’s certain the prey’s dead it begins to feed. Sharks don’t chew their food, they just rip it into mouth-sized pieces and swallow it whole. A big meal can last a shark up to two months.


Habitat

Great White Sharks live in all coastal temperate waters, and have been known to occasionally make dives into the deep water of open oceans. They can be found in water as shallow as three feet deep, and as deep as 1280metres. They can be found on the following coaslines: California to Alaska, the east coast of the USA, most of the Gulf coast, Hawaii, most of South America, South Africa, Australia (except the north coast), New Zealand, Mediterranean Sea, West Africa to Scandinavia, Japan, and the eastern coastline of China to Russia.

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Reproduction

These sharks are ovoniparous, they give birth to 2-14 fully formed pups which are up to 1.5m (5ft) long. Fertilization of the eggs occurs in the female, and later the eggs actually hatch within the female. The young are nourished by eating unfertilized eggs and smaller siblings in the womb. There is no placenta with which they can get nourishment from their mother; they must fend for themselves. The female gives birth to live young, unlike many other sharks who lay eggs. The newborn gets no help from its mother. As soon as it’s born it swims away to begin living its life. A newborn is about 4ft long, and it grows 25cm (10inches) each year, reaching maturity at 10 years.


Senses

Sharks have some of the most highly developed senses of any creature. Their primary sense is the ability to smell. The nostrils can smell a drop a blood in 100 liters (25 gallons) of water. Their next important sense is the ability to detect electric charges. They can pick up electrical charges as small as 0.005 microvolts. The prey can be detected by the electrical field generated by a beating heart or gill action. Fish in hiding can also be detected this way.

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Migration

Some females migrate to warmer water to give birth in the fall.

A Shark in Captivity
Great White Sharks aren't usually kept in captivity. Most of the time, they are brought in because they are injured or sick, and they do not usually survive long. One healthy shark, nicknamed Sandy, was brought into captivity in 1980. She was a 7.5ft Great White and was brought to the Steinhart Aquarium in San Francisco, USA. The aquarium was donut-shaped, and visitors watched from a central viewing area. The tank was set up for fast swimming fish, with a current going around against which the fish swam. It was a good environment for a young shark. The caretakers said there were many ups and downs to having her stay there. She showed little interest in divers who went down into her tank. They soon noticed that she often bumped her nose against the same metal seams in the tank that stuck out about 4inches. So to solve this they put a plastic covering over them to flatten out the seams. Then they noticed that she swam differently at one spot in the tank. At first nothing was detected, but then they realized that there was a tiny change in electrical activity, only 0.125 millivolts - most other sharks and fish wouldn't have noticed it. They concluded that the only way to fix the problem was to drain the tank, and she would die if she kept bumping her head, so they let her go back into the wild.  

 

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Links: check out these links for more on great white sharks:

Canada's Shark Research Laboratory

Video of Great White Shark hunting!

National Geographic's kids page on Great White Sharks

Monterey Bay Aquarium shark page


Questions and Answers about sharks

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