White Shark, Carcharodon carcharias Click to enlarge image
White Shark, Carcharodon carcharias. Image: Susanne Spindler
© CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Fast Facts

  • IUCN Conservation Status
    VULNERABLE (VU)
    Australian Federal Conservation Status
    Vulnerable
  • Classification
    Species
    carcharias
    Genus
    Carcharodon
    Family
    Lamnidae
    Order
    Lamniformes
    Class
    Chondrichthyes
    Subphylum
    Vertebrata
    Phylum
    Chordata
    Kingdom
    Animalia
  • Size Range
    White Sharks can grow to at least 6 m in length and weigh 3000 kg.
  • Habitats
    continental shelf

Introduction

The White Shark is one of the most famous (and feared) species of shark. It is one of the few shark species that is dangerous to humans.



What do White Sharks look like?

Identification

The White Shark has a torpedo-shaped body, a pointed snout and large pectoral and first dorsal fins. It has a lunate tail, black eyes and large serrated teeth. It is grey or bronze above and white below.


  • White Shark, Carcharodon carcharias
    White Shark, Carcharodon carcharias. Image: René Campbell
    © CC BY-NC 4.0
  • White Shark, Carcharodon carcharias
    White Shark, Carcharodon carcharias. Image: Adam Smith
    © CC BY-NC 4.0

Where do White Sharks live?

Habitat

Worldwide in temperate, coastal waters.

Distribution

White Sharks are found worldwide in temperate, coastal waters. In Australia they have been recorded from southern Queensland to north-western Western Australia.

View information on the occurrence of White Sharks in Sydney Harbour.

The map below shows the Australian distribution of the species based on public sightings and specimens in Australian Museums. Click on the map for detailed information.



What do White Sharks eat and what is their life cycle?

Feeding and diet

Juvenile White Sharks normally eat squid and fishes such as stingrays and other sharks. As the fish matures, its diet changes. Adults eat seals, sea lions, dolphins and dead whales, although some will continue to eat fishes such as snapper.

Marine mammals are an important part of the diet of larger White Sharks. White Sharks have also been known to eat elephant seals, sea otters, turtles and sea birds.



Life history

Females mature at 4.5 m to 5 m in length, males at 3.5 m to 4 m. White Sharks are born at ~130 cm TL. They are oophagous (individuals that have hatched inside the female eat unfertilised egg), producing litters of between 2-17 pups after a gestation period of 12-18months.

It was previously believed that a White Shark of 5 m to 6 m in length would be 15 to 25 years old. In their 2014 paper Hamady and colleagues, however, state that the largest female white shark analysed (5.26 m fork length) was up to 40 years old. The largest male, however, (fork length 4.93 m) was estimated to be 73 years old. They state that there may be sexual dimorphism in growth rates and raise concerns about the sensitivity of white shark populations to human induced mortality.


Jaw of White Shark

The jaws of a White Shark from the Australian Musuem Ichthyology Collection (AMS I.34192-001). The 2.1m long fish was caught by a shark mesher off Red Head beach, Newcastle, New South Wales in February 1992.

Image: Mark McGrouther
© Australian Museum

Are White Sharks dangerous and are they endangered?

Danger to humans

The White Shark is a powerful predator, which provokes fear in many people. However, this may not be entirely warranted. Scientists are only recently building up knowledge on the biology, movements and vulnerability of this species. A new research project funded by the Natural Heritage Trust, and under the leadership of J. Stevens and B. Bruce, of CSIRO Fisheries, is one such study. Visit the CSIRO site to view the page on "Neale" the tagged White Shark.


Sharks - coming soon

The exciting new family exhibition, Sharks, is coming soon to the Australian Museum in Spring 2022.

Find out more

Conservation

Despite Australia's reputation as "the place to go to see White Sharks", they are uncommon. There are no reliable estimates of the number of White Sharks in Australian waters however, evidence suggests that their numbers are decreasing.

This species is now protected in all Australian states and territorial waters. The White Shark is also protected in many places around the world. South Africa was the first to protect this species in 1992, followed by Namibia, the Maldives, Florida and California and Australia. New Zealand gave the White Shark protected species status In 2007.


Scales of a White Shark, Carcharodon carcharias
Scanning electron micrograph of the overlapping placoid scales of a White Shark. Image: Sue Linday
© Australian Museum

References

  1. Anon. 2002. Introducing Heather & Neale. Great White Stars. Natural Heritage. Autumn. 12:16.
  2. Ellis, R. & J.E. McCosker. 1991. Great White Shark. Stanford University Press. Pp. 270.
  3. Hamady, L.L., Natanson, L.J,. Skomal, G.B., Thorrold, S.R. 2014. Vertebral Bomb Radiocarbon Suggests Extreme Longevity in White Sharks. PLoS ONE 9(1): e84006. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0084006
  4. Hutchins, B. & R. Swainston. 1986. Sea Fishes of Southern Australia. Complete Field Guide for Anglers and Divers. Swainston Publishing. Pp. 180.
  5. Klimley, A.P. & D.G. Ainley (eds). 1996. Great White Sharks. The Biology of Carcharodon carcharias. Academic Press. Pp. 517.
  6. Last, P.R. & J.D. Stevens. 1994.Sharks and Rays of Australia. CSIRO. Pp. 513, Pl. 1-84.
  7. Paxton, J.R. 2003. Shark nets in the spotlight. Nature Australia. Spring. 27 (10): 84.
  8. Pogonoski, J.J., Pollard, D.A.& J.R. Paxton. 2002.Conservation Overview and Action Plan for Australian Threatened and Potentially Threatened Marine and Estuarine Fishes. Environment Australia, ISBN 0 642 54786 6. [Online August 2007]
  9. Saïdi, B., Bradaï, M.N., Bouaïn, A., Guélorget, O. & C. Capapé. 2005. Capture of a pregnant female white shark, Carcharodon carcharias (Lamnidae) in the Gulf of Gabés (southern Tunisia, central Mediterranean) with comments on oophagy in sharks. Cybium. 29(3): 303-307.
  10. Stevens, J.D. in Gomon, M.F., C.J.M. Glover & R.H. Kuiter (Eds). 1994. The Fishes of Australia's South Coast. State Print, Adelaide. Pp. 992.
  11. White Sharks. Filling the gaps in our knowledge. CSIRO fact sheet 35, May 1999, Pp. 2. White Shark Research. Neale the white shark. CSIRO Australia. [Online August 2007]

Further reading

Facts about White Sharks.