The white shark, more commonly known as the great white shark but also called the white pointer, blue pointer, man-eater, and manila shark, is the undisputed king of the ocean, next to orcas and larger sharks.
White sharks grow to an average length of 15 feet, although they can reach lengths of up to 20 feet and weigh up to 5,000 pounds. They can swim as fast as you can drive on a standard city street, or about 35 miles per hour, thanks to a torpedo-shaped body and powerful tail.
Although not the largest shark in the ocean by any means, the white shark is certainly one of the most interesting. Notorious for its attacks on humans, the white shark is feared and revered alike (but mostly feared,) which is why it’s the stuff of legends, the star of blockbuster thrillers like Jaws (and not-so-blockbuster thrillers like Sharknado!) and the subject of numerous documentaries, especially during Shark Week.
Unfortunately, the fear of the white shark is terribly misguided and often fueled by the ignorance and trademark hysteria of the media. To set the record straight and give you an appreciation for these incredible animals, we’ve compiled the top five most interesting facts about white sharks.
Fact #5: Teeth by the Thousands!
Great whites have up to 300 teeth in their mouth at any given time, distributed among up to seven rows. Their teeth are about three inches long, razor sharp, and serrated to help them rip their prey into huge chunks, which they don’t actually chew (despite an enormous number of teeth) but rather swallow whole.
When a great white loses a tooth, which is bound to happen now and then, it’s replaced by a tooth in the row behind, which can move up to its new position in as little as 24 hours. A great white can lose and re-grow thousands of teeth over its lifetime.
Fact #4: In-Utero Hatching!
Female great whites develop several eggs after mating, and rather than laying her eggs, they hatch right there inside her body! To survive the gestation period of about a year, the little shark pups eat the remaining eggs, swallow their own teeth, and sometimes they eat each other, which is probably why a typical shark’s litter can be as small as two pups. If the little ones don’t chomp on too many of their siblings, a litter may be as large as 10 pups.
The pups are five feet long when they’re born, and they immediately swim away from their mother to avoid being eaten by her and to forage for a proper meal of small marine animals like fish and rays.
Fact #3: When Sharks Attack
Great whites are greatly feared among surfers and swimmers alike, mostly due to the aforementioned media hype, which would make one think that shark attacks are a major threat to humanity. But in reality, only 75 people a year worldwide are attacked by a great white, resulting in roughly 10 deaths annually. In the United States, only three people were killed at the hands (or, rather, the teeth) of a great white shark during the four-year period between 2006 and 2010.
See, white sharks don’t like the way we taste, and if they had better vision, they would spot us and just keep on moving. But they don’t have the greatest eyesight, and so when a great white sees your legs dangling in the water, it’s expecting something more delicious than human flesh and more digestible than human bones. So it does its thing, sneaking up from below, bumping into you and simultaneously taking a big bite. Once it realizes you’re just a nasty little human, it’ll usually swim off to find something enjoyable to eat. But sometimes that little taste results in your innards spilling out of your body, although even in such extreme cases, survival is still possible, especially if you’re a surfer and your wet suit holds everything together.
Fact #2: The White Shark Predator
Sharks emerged into being around 410 million years ago, or about 189 million years before the dinosaurs appeared. Sharks pre-date humans by a little over 409 million years, and it’s a sad testament to humanity that white sharks are listed as “vulnerable” on the IUCN’s Red List because of the impact of humans on their populations.
While white sharks kill about 10 people a year (you’re more likely to die from a dog bite, a bee sting, or falling off a cliff in Alaska after dropping your camera and losing your footing when you reach out to catch it,) humans are singlehandedly responsible for the killings of about 30 million sharks every year.
Sometimes we kill great whites because we’re “sportsmen,” and sportsmen like trophies they can hang up on the wall of their man-cave. Sometimes we kill them because we’re greedy, and you can make good money selling great whites’ jaws, teeth, and fins. Sometimes we kill them because after a shark attack, the media often calls for the decimation of as many sharks as possible out of revenge. And sometimes we inadvertently kill them when they get stuck on a fishing line or in a net designed to keep them away from beaches, or when our activities result in the serious degradation of their near-shore habitats.
Thirty million great white sharks every year! That’s 82,191 sharks every single day, killed for a trophy or a bowl of soup or because one of their kind sank its teeth into one of our kind, and we ain’t gonna let that fly!
Fact #1: They Share, and Share Alike
The main staples of a great white’s diet include sea lions, sea turtles, and elephant seals. They consume about 11 tons of food each year, which seems like a lot until you consider that a sea lion can weigh up to 1,250 pounds and a seal weighs as much as 2,500 pounds. In fact, a great white can go without food for two or three months after a large meal.
Sharks are rather civilized when it comes to feeding. Unlike most animals, great whites don’t fight over food. If there’s enough to share, then mi sea lion es tu sea lion. If not, the sharks will engage in a tail-slapping contest, during which they slam their giant tails on the surface of the water, and whoever gets the most slaps in gets to eat.