Great white sharks are arguably the most formidable creatures in the ocean. Known in popular culture for their incredible size and strength, they are feared throughout the world. Widely studied, great white sharks are amazing animals that, however imposing they may seem, are an important part of the ecosystem. Known mostly for being responsible for the vast majority of shark attacks on humans, the great white also has many special characteristics that make up the unique creature it is today.
#1 – They’ll Eat Almost Anything
Great white sharks are carnivores and they are probably the least picky eaters in the world. Their natural diet ranges from fish, including other sharks, to dolphins, porpoises, whales, sea lions, seals, sea otters, birds and even sea turtles. Great whites will actively hunt but are commonly seen scavenging as well. Great whites are also known for eating completely undigestible, non-food items. Although not fully confirmed, a full suit of body armor was said to be removed from a great white’s stomach contents in the 16th century. Unfortunately, it’s said that the knight was still in the armor, although much more decomposed.
#2 – They’re The Largest Predatory Fish
Great white sharks are the largest predatory fish in the world. As with most shark species, females are larger than males. Female great whites have been known to reach upwards of 20 ft in length and weigh over 4,000 lbs. Males average about 11 to 13 ft in length. They are the primary predators of marine mammals, with killer whales being their only natural predator. Their size alone gives them an incredible advantage out in the open water, leaving humans the largest threat to the species.
#3 – They’re Old
The oldest known fossils of great white sharks are roughly 11 million years old. This means they have been on this planet far longer than many other species, as most sharks predate many insects, mammals and even dinosaurs. Further, these animals live for a long time. Although originally thought to live only about 30 years, recent research estimates that great white sharks live up to around 70-years-old. The oldest studied specimen was a 73-year-old male. Males are thought to reach sexual maturity at 26-years-old and females at 33-years-old. Because of this, the survival of young sharks is important to the health of the entire population.
#4 – They Have A Sixth Sense
Sharks have an incredible sixth sense known as electroreception. This means that the sharks use electromagnetic fields to feel vibrations in the water by potential prey. Great white sharks are so sensitive they can detect variations of half a billionth of a volt. This means that at close range, great whites can even detect the heartbeats of completely still animals hiding. In other words, you can run but you truly can’t hide from the great white shark.
#5 – They Have Unique Hunting Techniques
Along with their use of electroreception, great white sharks have some very unique feeding habits. First, they display a behavior called “breaching.” This is a technique used most often when the sharks are hunting seals. Seals swim on the surface and the sharks come up at them from below, swimming at bursts of up to 25mph. These speeds propel them partially or completely out of the water, sometimes reaching 10 feet into the air. Great white sharks are also one of the few shark species that exhibit a behavior called “spy-hopping,” during which they lift their heads above the water to spot prey. They will also attack dolphins and porpoises from behind, below or directly above to avoid being detected by their echolocation. When attacking large prey, great whites generally bite first to injure the animal, let it weaken and possibly die, and then return to eat it. Smaller animals are grabbed and taken far into the ocean until they stop struggling. Great white sharks generally have a different hunting technique for each different type of prey.