The white shark, also known as great white shark, is likely the most recognizable of all shark species. It is the largest predatory fish on our planet. The white shark has a powerful jaw full of large serrated teeth and a body size that can reach over twenty feet and 4,000 pounds.
White sharks can be found worldwide from tropical to cool temperate waters. In the US Atlantic, tracking white shark movement is still in its infancy, and more research is needed to better understand migration patterns. In the Pacific, by using satellite tracking tags, scientists have demonstrated that the sharks move seasonally from shallow coastal waters to the deep ocean. While offshore, sharks have been shown to dive to depths greater than 3,000 feet.
White sharks are endothermic—meaning they have the ability to raise their internal temperature above that of the surrounding seawater. This allows the shark to expand its habitat and hunt efficiently at deep cold depths or in cool temperate waters.
The white shark is a selective and efficient predator. They feed on a wide variety of prey items ranging from squid to seals to other sharks. As they grow larger, white sharks change their diet and move from small prey, like fishes, to larger, more active prey, like seals.
White sharks grow relatively slowly and do not mature until they are over ten years old and a size in excess of twelve feet and 1,500 pounds. Females are thought to give birth to two to ten pups every two to three years. With slow growth and low reproductive rates, the white shark is very vulnerable to overfishing.
White sharks are protected in some countries, including the United States. In the Atlantic, white sharks have been a prohibited species in federal waters since 1997 and in state waters since 2005.The population estimates are largely unknown but the species is thought to be rare. White sharks are categorized on the IUCN Red List as vulnerable.
Source: “The Shark Handbook- The Essential Guide for Understanding the Sharks of the World” by Dr. Greg Skomal
In the Northwest Atlantic Ocean, the white shark population is estimated to have declined by over 75% in the past 15 years. The species is listed as vulnerable on the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List of threatened species and in 2004 was listed on CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) Appendix II. White sharks have been a prohibited species – protected from harvesting - in U.S. waters since 1991.
White sharks face a variety of threats including bycatch, finning, habitat degradation, and trophy hunting. The sharks are slow-growing, late to mature, and have few offspring, making the species extremely vulnerable to the threats it faces and any reduction in population size makes recovery difficult. With these overwhelming hurdles, and a fearful public, the uphill battle our sharks face is unprecedented—they need your help.
We don’t know enough about white sharks to ensure their survival. What we do know is that when sharks are eliminated from an ecosystem, the imbalance causes environmental and economic problems. AWSC is working to support research and education that ensures the white shark thrives and that our marine ecosystem flourishes for generations to come.