Answers to Common Questions about Great Whites
by Nikki Sevy
We've spent many years with white sharks, and have been putting divers into the water with them since 1998. Over all that time, we've learned a LOT about them. Here are the answers to some of the shark questions we’re most frequently asked by our great white expedition guests and online visitors...
How big do great white sharks get?
According to our friends at the Monterey Bay Aquarium White Shark Project, the great white pups are up to 3.6 feet (1.1 m). The adults get up to 21.5 feet (6.5 m), with the average adult growing to 15 feet.
Although sightings of great whites measuring over 20 feet have been documented at the Farallon Islands by members of the Monterey Bay Aquarium team, they have not been recorded on video... yet.
How long can a great white live?
In the past, many shark scientists believed white sharks only lived to be 30-40 years old. However, tissue testing done in 2014 indicates that great whites could live to be 70 or older. This means their lifespan could be about the same as a human.
Where do great whites live and swim?
White sharks congregate in areas with large marine mammal populations. They often hunt by ambushing their prey in an attack from the depths. Great Whites are highly migratory creatures, meaning they will travel great distances to mate and hunt. Scientific records show them swimming up to 2,000 miles at depths of up to 4,200 feet! Each year Pacific White sharks travel to an area roughly halfway between California and Hawaii. Known as “The White Shark Café,” researchers have yet to determine whether this is an area used for feeding, mating, or both. Although white sharks can be found on coastal shelves across the globe, there are only four major “hot-spots” for viewing white sharks in the wild.
What do great white sharks eat?
A young white will have a diet consisting primarily of coastal fish, skates, and rays. As the shark grows, its caloric requirements grow with it. Main prey items for adult white sharks include pinnipeds such as seals and sea lions. White sharks have also been known to dine on other sharks, stingrays, sea turtles, and even on dead whales. They will also sometimes snack on seabirds – Isla Guadalupe's white shark Rhett is a known seagull chaser! We've also seen the white sharks at Guadalupe feed on tuna. Thankfully, humans are not part of the white shark’s preferred diet.
Why are whites considered cold-blooded animals?
Like most fishes, a majority of sharks are cold-blooded, or ectothermic. Great Whites belong to a small group of sharks that possess some endothermic, or warm-blooded, capabilities. Although the white shark is technically cold-blooded, it has the ability to maintain a body temperature up to 15°F higher than the surrounding water. Their unique blood vessel structure is known as a countercurrent exchanger. This provides some major advantages when hunting in colder waters, including increased speed and mental ability. The other sharks which have endothermic capabilities are the shortfin mako, longfin mako, porbeagle, and salmon shark.
SENSE OF SMELL
Can white sharks really detect a drop of blood?
While white sharks have a remarkable sense of smell and can detect a drop of blood in 25 gallons of water, the myth of a shark smelling blood and immediately coming to attack is just that - a myth. Sharks actually use a variety of senses to locate their prey, including smell, sight, and the detection of electromagnetic fields. Anyone who's ever been waiting in the cage for a shark to appear knows that simply putting blood in the water isn’t going to bring in a frenzy of sharks!
Possibly the most important thing we’ve learned in 20 years underwater with these magnificent creatures is that their reputation as bloodthirsty killers is incorrect and undeserved. White sharks are fascinating apex predators who deserve our respect. Great White Adventures can help you gain a greater appreciation for them by getting you in the water to see these incredible animals up close. Once you do, you’ll be hooked!