The Great White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias) is one of the largest fish species in the ocean and belongs to the ‘Mackerel Sharks’ family known as Lamnidae. The shark is considered to be top of the food chain and is the master of predation. Great white sharks have a torpedo-shaped body, coloured grey to grey-brown on the upper surface and white below. They have large, serrated triangular teeth, very small second top (dorsal) and bottom (anal) fins, and a distinct keel before the broad crescent-shaped tail. They are occasionally mistaken for the mako shark (which is also in the Lamnidae family) but the mako has a bluer upper body and long slender pointed teeth.
Great whites prefer temperate waters but are also found in subtropical oceans throughout the world. They are most frequently encountered off South Africa, southern Australia, northern California and the northeastern United States. In Australia, their range extends primarily from southern Queensland, around the southern coastline to the North West Cape of Western Australia. They are also known to frequent waters surrounding seal and sea lion colonies throughout Australia.
Great white sharks measure around 120-150 cm at birth and can grow to approximately 7 metres in length. Great white sharks have a heat-exchanging circulatory system enabling them to maintain body temperatures higher than that of the surrounding seawater. Great whites feed irregularly, with large meals able to sustain a medium size shark for up to a week. Great whites appear to prefer different types of food according to their age and sex. Juveniles (less then 3 m) prefer fish species such as snapper while larger individuals will include sharks, rays and marine mammals in their diet. Marine mammals such as seals and sea lions appear to be the preferred prey for adult great white sharks. Large great white sharks are known to actively hunt small cetaceans and scavenge on carcasses of larger species.
Great white sharks have relatively low natural mortality and are probably long lived (up to 30 years) and late maturing. Males reach sexual maturity at age 9, when around 3.6 m in length, and females at age 11, when around 4.5-5.0 m. Great white shark embryos are believed to eat large numbers of unfertilised eggs within the womb, a reproductive strategy known as oophagy. Gestation is estimated to last approximately 12 months with females giving birth to between 4 and 10 pups in spring or summer. It is unlikely that females breed every year. Pups are approximately 1.2-1.5 m in length and are fully developed and independent at birth.
Great whites are particularly vulnerable due to their relatively low natural abundance and natural mortality. These characteristics mean that great white shark populations are poorly adapted to withstand increases in mortality from non-natural sources and, due to their low reproductive potential, would recover slowly if reduced in abundance. They are totally protected in the waters of Australia.