Great White Sharks are one of the most efficient hunters on the planet. They are the largest predatory fish and have some amazing biological adaptations that help them dominate the oceans. Great White Sharks are a truly unique species that should be admired. Unfortunately, because they are such an incredible hunter, they inspire fear instead of respect. Learning about the hunting behaviors of Great White Sharks can help dispel some of this fear and truly show this animal for what it is: A smart, well adapted apex predator.
Great White Shark Diet
The Great White Shark diet varies depending on age, resource availability, and habitat. Younger Great White Sharks tend to eat mostly body fish, rays, and other sharks. These smaller prey are easier to catch and less dangerous for sharks just learning how to hunt. Adult Great Whites eat larger prey that requires much more skill. They eat everything younger Great White Sharks eat, however they tend to prefer sea mammals like sea lions and seals, whales, sea turtles, and seabirds. When resources are strained they will scavenge and eat carrion. Carrion is the meat of animals that have already been dead. Their diet also depends on where they are in the ocean. Great White Sharks are migratory so when they are in open waters they tend to eat more sea creatures, but when they are by the shore they eat more sea mammals. This diversity of prey is one of the many reasons Great White Sharks have a reputation for being fearsome predators.
Great White Sharks Evolved To Be Great Hunters
Great White Sharks have many evolutionary adaptations that have helped them become one of the best hunters on the planet. Some of these adaptations are found in all shark species, while others are completely unique to the Great White. Here are some of the amazing biological features that make Great White Sharks impressive hunters:
- Cartilaginous Skeleton: All sharks have cartilaginous skeletons. Cartilaginous skeletons help sharks swim faster, stay afloat, and make sharp turns without expelling extra energy. Cartilaginous skeletons make sharks more adapted for the quick bursts of propulsion they need to attack prey.
- Protruding Jaw: Cartilaginous skeletons also allow sharks to have a protruding jaw. Unlike bony fish Great White Shark jaws are not fixed, but are elastic and can extend forward grabbing prey. This helps sharks attack their prey from a great distance while still protecting their eyes and nose.
- Bite Force: Cartilage skeletons also help sharks have greater bite force. The cartilage allows the flexibility needed to strengthen the bite force. Great White Sharks have the strongest bite force on the planet at 2 tons (1.8 metric tons). That is 20 times greater than the bite force of a human being. This impressive bite force helps sharks kill their prey quicker and reduces the chance of injury from prey fighting back.
- Warm Blooded: Most sharks are cold-blooded, however Great Whites have adapted an internal heater that makes them warm-blooded. This helps them hunt better in colder waters, and gives them extra bursts of energy when they need to burst forward to attack prey or even, when they need to breach.
- Breaching: Breaching is when a shark jumps out of the water. Great Whites can breach up to 10 feet (3 m) above the surface at 25 mph (40 kph). Breaching helps Great Whites hunt animals that would otherwise elude them by leaving the water. Breaching also helps them grab animals off the shorelines.
- Eyes: Great White Sharks have built in protection for their eyes. They are able to roll their eyes in the back of their head to protect them from damage during feeding. This gives them a distinct advantage when attacking difficult prey that will often try to disarm predators by going for their eyes.
- Hearing: Great White Sharks Also also have amazing senses. They have incredible hearing and can detect extremely low frequencies that are inaudible to humans. These lower frequencies can hear when prey is moving nearby.
- Sight: Scientists once believed that Great White Sharks were colorblind. However, recent study has found that not only can they see color, they can see more colors than humans. They are also better at detecting light from dark. This incredible eyesight helps them spot prey even in dark, murky waters.
- Smell: Another advanced sense Great White Sharks have adapted is an incredible sense of smell. Sharks are keenly tuned into the smell of blood and can detect even small amounts of blood from up to 3 miles away. They are also capable of distinguishing the origin of the blood and if they smell the blood of another Great White Shark, they will avoid the area to escape danger.
- Electroreception: Great White Sharks also have a sixth sense called electroreception. Electroreception helps them detect electrical fields. It is used mainly to navigate the ocean, but can also be used to detect movement in the water. So they can spot prey and avoid predators.
- Teeth: Great White Sharks have about 300 teeth in their mouths that they replace routinely if they are damaged or lost inside prey. Since they replace their teeth routinely, they are always equipped to attack. Their teeth are also extremely large, growing to 3 inches (7.5 cm) in length, and have sharp serrated edges, so a Great White Sharks bite does a lot of damage.
- Size: Great White Sharks are the biggest predatory shark. They grow to an average 20ft (6 m) in length but two have been documented at around 37ft (11.2 m). Their massive size makes them a formidable match for any prey and leaves them few predators to challenge them.
Between their varied diet and these amazing evolutionary adaptations, Great White Sharks have evolved to be one of the top predators on the planet. However, even with their impressive hunting prowess, in the last hundred years there have only been 220 Great White Sharks attacks against humans worldwide, and up to 50% of these have been provoked. So instead of fearing Great White Sharks, we should be admiring them for being amazing hunters.