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Fun Facts About Great White Sharks

A great white shark cruises underwater in search of prey.
A great white shark cruises underwater in search of prey.
Credit: Neil Hammerschlag

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Chondrichthyes

Order: Lamniformes

Family: Lamnidae

Genus: Carcharodon

Species: Carcharodon carcharias

Basic great white shark facts

Great white sharks are the planet's largest predatory fish. They can measure longer than 20 feet (6 meters) and weigh up to 5,000 pounds (2,268 kilograms).

They are intelligent and remarkably curious creatures. They have highly-developed senses and an exceptional brain that coordinates them all. As a result, they sit at the top of the ocean's food chain.

Their slate grey upper bodies blend in with the rocky seafloor, and their underbellies are always white — which is how they got their name. Unlike other fish, sharks have cartilaginous skeletons instead of bones.

A great white shark has 300 teeth, and they're arranged in up to seven rows. [Image Gallery: Great White Shark Pictures]

Great white sharks are built for speed. Their torpedo-like shape and powerful tails help them swim at speeds up to 15 mph (24 kph). They can propel their bodies completely out of the water when pursuing prey. Their attack strategy involves a fast, surprise attack from below before inflicting a powerful and potentially fatal bite.

Great white sharks feed on fish, rays and other smaller sharks when they're young. As they mature they begin feeding on marine mammals, including harbor seals, sea lions and elephant seals, and scavenging large carcasses. They like the fat-rich blubber layer of dead whales. Great whites are known to attack, but not eat, humans.

Great white sharks usually give birth to between two and 12 babies every two to three years, and gestation takes at least a year. Unlike most other sharks, great whites are born live and can swim immediately. No one has ever reliably witnessed them mating.

Great whites reach maturity at around 15 years and can live for more than 60 years.

Great white shark habitat

Great white sharks live in nearly all oceans and seas, though they prefer temperate coastal areas. They can live in the open ocean or near islands and continental coasts, in both frigid and tropical waters, and at depths from the surface to about 820 feet (250 meters). Great white sharks have been tracked swimming from South Africa to Australia, and California to Hawaii — the longest recorded migrations of any fish species.

Conservation status: Vulnerable

Threats to the great white shark include commercial and sport fishing for their fins (which are used in shark fin soup) and jaws (which are often hunting trophies); accidental entanglement in protective beach mesh and commercial fishing nets; and destruction of the near-shore habitats where young sharks are born and raised.

Odd great white shark facts

Great whites have six highly refined senses: smell, hearing, touch, taste, sight and … electromagnetism!

Their sense of smell helps them detect substances at miniscule concentrations — 1 part per 10 billion parts water. A great white shark can smell a seal colony 2 miles away (3 kilometers).

Pores on this shark's snout are filled with cells that can feel the power and direction of electrical currents. They use this sense to navigate the open ocean, as well as to home in on small electrical signals from the hearts and gills of prey.

Most great white shark attacks are not fatal. Researchers think that these curious sharks are actually just "sample biting" then releasing their human victims, rather than attacking to kill and eat people. [Great White Lies About Great White Sharks]

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