The Great White is probably the most feared of all the sharks, and not completely without reason. Although it attacks humans far less frequently than public hysteria might suggest, it is a fearsome predator. If you had to guess what the Great White Shark diet was, after watching Jaws, you might think that it is favorite food group was humans, but that is far from being the case.
Portrait of a Predator
The Great White is one the largest sharks in the world. Mature females can be as long as 6 m (20 ft) and weigh up to 1950 kg (4300 lbs), although the average size of a Great White is closer to 4.5 m (15 ft), which is still a massive size. The Great White is a fast and nimble swimmer, reaching speeds up to 24 km/hr (15 mph). The mouth is also impressive, in that it contains 3000 teeth in rows that rotate into use as needed. In addition, the Great White can smell a single drop of blood in 100 liters (25 gallons) of water. Even the coloring is designed to enhance its predatory success. The grey back blends into the sea when seen from above, and the white belly is difficult to see from below. All together, it is built to hunt and kill efficiently – a natural-born predator. The only threats to this powerful shark are killer whales and humans.
Where Do Great Whites Live?
Great White Sharks live in temperate zones across the globe. They prefer coastal waters and hunt near the surface, which explains why they have run-ins with humans from time to time. They are most common In the United States, on both coasts, South Africa, Oceania, Chile and Japan, but are also found in the Mediterranean. There is a particularly large concentration of Great Whites around Dyer Island, South Africa, which makes this location a center for research on Great Whites.
What is Great White Baby Food Like?
Great White Sharks are ovoviviparous, which means that the eggs hatch inside the mother’s womb, where the little sharks feed on the yolk sacs and continue to develop until they are born. There are 2 to 10 pups in a litter, and the pups are about 1.5 m (5 ft) long, when they emerge from the womb in spring and summer. The pups mostly eat fish, because until they reach a length of about 3 m (9.8 ft), their jaws are not strong enough to kill and eat larger animals.
Bigger Sharks Seek Bigger Prey
As the young sharks grow and their jaws get stronger, they start hunting larger prey. The diet of adult Great White Sharks consists mostly of marine mammals, like different species of seals and dolphins, but they will also eat sea turtles and otters. It seems that individual sharks have specific food preferences, so some may prefer seals, whereas others really like dolphin meat. When they attack large mammals like elephant seals, they typically attack from behind, bite the animal’s hindquarters and then wait for the seal to bleed to death, before devouring it. If the mammal prey is smaller, they grab it, drag it down and keep it under water till it stops fighting, i.e. till it runs out of oxygen.
Great White Sharks Go for Fast Food
In addition to the stellar hunting skills of the Great Whites, they are also skilled at sniffing out fast food, in other words animals that have died and are floating in the sea. This is where their ability to detect even tiny amounts of blood in the water comes in handy, as it allows them to find a dinner all ready for them, without having to hunt and kill it themselves.
Great White Sharks Are Greedy Eaters
The Great White doesn’t chew its food. Rather it tears the prey into chunks and swallows the chunks whole. It will also feast on a giant meal, when it has had a particularly good hunt. On the other hand, the Great White can go without food for up to 2 months after one of these feasts. This is not unlike how predators on land, like the big cats, have adapted to the feast or famine aspect of being hunters.
Great Whites Love Greasy Food
Great Whites much prefer prey that has meat high in fat. This was tested by the researcher Peter Klimley. He did a fairly simple experiment, where he hooked carcasses of a pig, a sheep, and a seal on strong fishing lines and trailed them through waters with Great Whites. The sharks happily feasted on the pig and the seal, but turned up their noses at the sheep, whose meat is not as fatty.
Humans Are not Yummy to Great White Sharks
It should be clear by now that the Great White Shark diet is based on fish for the young sharks and marine mammals for the adults. As we all know, Great White Sharks do sometimes attack humans, although they rarely kill and eat human beings. Given the habitat of the Great Whites, they could hunt human beings far more than they actually do. Perhaps we are simply not that tasty to them, or perhaps their preference for fatty meat makes a human a poor substitute for a nice fat seal. Great Whites do get hunted by humans, however, because the jaws and fins can fetch high prices. So, in the end, the Great Whites should probably fear us more than we fear them.