Great White Sharks

Famous for their power, massive size and occasional attacks on humans, great white sharks favor temperate waters of Earth's oceans and are less common in tropical and polar regions. Known to be migratory, they are most often observed in coastal areas where their prey is seasonally concentrated. Among their more common feeding territories are the Pacific Coast of North and South America, Southern Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Africa and the Mediterranean region. Nevertheless, these wandering predators may turn up along any shore (as has occurred in New England this week) and have been observed in the Gulf of Mexico.

Slow to mature, great whites do not breed until the age of 15 and may live up to 100 years; births are thought to occur in early summer. Adults average 15 feet in length and often weigh 2000 lbs; records include individuals over 30 feet long, with weights exceeding 5000 lbs. To sustain their massive bodies, great whites feed on a variety of marine life, including fish, seals, sea lions, dolphins, sea turtles and penguins; they also consume carrion and seem to be especially fond of whale carcasses. Attacks on humans, while sensationalized in the media, are uncommon and likely occur due to mistaken identity (i.e. surfers in wet suits look like seals). Equipped with rows of serrated teeth, the shark's initial attack, usually from below, stuns and cripples the victim and, as it bleeds to death, the great white circles back to consume it.

Humans and orcas pose the only threat to great white sharks, which represent the lone surviving member of the genus Carcharodon. Inducing both fear and fascination, these large predators have become the victims of a wide range of human activity, from hunting to the modern bating and cage-watching industry. As with many other species of wildlife, we either fail to appreciate their value or can't resist invading their space.