The great white shark, also known as Carcharodon carcharias, has a gray and white belly and is the largest predatory fish on earth. It lives an estimated 30 to 40 years and, in maturity, it can reach up to 20 feet in length and weigh up to 5,000 pounds. It lives in coastal surface waters around the world with the greatest populations residing in Australia, South Africa, California and Mexico's Isla Guadalupe.
Top of the Oceanic Food Chain
Sharks have the strongest jaws on earth and the great white is the largest of them all. Each species of shark has a different shaped teeth, which are characterized by their diet. The great white shark is a carnivore and is distinguished by sharp, pointy teeth. The only other animal known to attack a great white shark are other great whites, sperm whales and orcas.
Teeth and Jaws
Like all sharks, the great white has jaws that are unique from other animals because both the top and bottom jaws move. A great white shark will ambush its prey, attack by biting with the lower jaw and then its upper jaw. It shakes its head back and forth tearing off a large piece of meat and swallowing it hole.
Plenty of Teeth to Spare
A great white shark, like all sharks, may have up to 3,000 teeth at one time with five rows of teeth at any given time. The front set of teeth is the largest and does most of the biting. Like all sharks, the great white shark may grow and use more than 20,000 teeth in its lifetime. In common with all sharks, the great white will never run out of teeth because if one is lost, another spins forward from a coil-like tooth reservoir of backup teeth in the jaw and spins forward to replace the old one.
Jaws Like a Cat's Claw
The great white shark has rows of teeth behind the main ones. The teeth are unattached to the jaw and are retractable, like a cat's claw, moving into place when the jaw is opened. The great white sharks teeth rotate on their own axis, moving outward when the jaw is opened and inward when the jaw is closed. The great white shark's teeth are linked to pressure and senor-sensing nerve cells, which give their teeth high tactile sensitivity.
Bite Size Morsels
The great white shark feeds on small fish, other sharks, turtles, dolphins, and pinnipeds such as seals and sea lions. In a single bite, a great white can take in up to 30 pounds of flesh, devouring a total of over several hundred pounds of flesh at each feeding. Although the great white has a high metabolism and has the ability to maintain a body temperature of around 14 degrees Celsius (57 degrees Fahrenheit), it can go weeks without eating.
The Great White's Role in Ecology
The large, sharp and numerous teeth of the great white shark help facilitate its crucial role as ocean janitor. The shark feeds on many sea animals, including the injured, sick and diseased. By doing this, the shark cleans up the sea as it munches its way along the ocean's surface to depths of 1,280 meters deep, or 4,200 feet.
The Great White Now Protected
The great white shark is one of 400 species of shark now protected in South Africa, California, South Australia, and Tasmania.
Tracy Stefan began writing professionally in 2007, with work appearing on various websites. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in creative writing and performing arts from the Evergreen State College. Stefan is also a graduate of Dell'Arte.