Perhaps no animal is more poorly understood than the Great White Shark, and probably no animal’s reputation is more at odds with reality. Horrible dictu, the media has created and popularized numerous misconceptions about Carcharodon carcharias (trans. ‘The Banality of Evil’). Probably none of these many misconceptions is more inaccurate than the notion that they’re not constantly trying to eat us.
Even as Discovery Channel tells us over and over that the Great White is not a natural predator of man, the reality is that Great Whites account for more human fatalities annually than every other animal and non-animal cause of death combined. Smoking, heart disease, cobra bites – these numbers pale next to the havoc wreaked by Nature’s perfect killing machine (the Great White Shark).
Cause of Deaths Annually, by Percentage
Simply put, most of us will at some point in our lives be eaten by a Great White Shark. Those of us who aren’t will know someone who is. Millions upon millions of people every year are eaten as the Great White makes its way through the oceans in an unfurled bloodlust.
Teeth? Check. Jaw? Check. Cold, dead eyes? Double check.
The Great White Shark (AKA the White Shark, White Death, The Devil’s Teeth, White Pointer, El Tiburon Blanco, Weisshai, Grand Requin Blanc, Kelb al-Bahr, Simak al-Qarsh al-Abyud al-Kbir, Great White Shark, White Shark, White Pointer, Tiburon Blanco, Great White Shark, White Shark, Great White Shark, Great White Shark, etc) is the largest predatory fish, holding the title of apex predator no matter where it roams (which is everywhere, with a large and deadly concentration in South Africa, Australia, California, and your bathtub).
I have a pick-up order for human flesh?
Given how often they eat us, remarkably little is known about the Great White. They have never been filmed mating, for instance, because they have standing orders to eat people who film them doing anything. Nor is it clear why they swim across entire oceans pretty regularly, though, again, it probably has something to do with eating people. What is certain is that the Great White’s skin can get a suntan. No kidding. It’s important to look good while terrorizing bathers. They also have razor-sharp, serrated teeth in their massive mouths, which is their primary tool of attack (followed by crossbow). They have five rows of teeth in various stages of development, the last two rows being completely unnecessary and entirely just for show. If one tooth falls out, another, larger tooth takes its place, and over the course of its life a Great White will go through thousands of teeth. Eating people is hard work.
Now you’re just asking for it.
Great Whites can weigh as much as 3,000 kg (300,000 lbs) and be up to 6.4 meters (38 feet) in length. They can detect the smallest trace amounts of blood in the water, which is often an indication that there’s something (or, as they prefer, someone) to eat nearby. We also know that Great Whites have ampullae of Lorenzini, which are a series of sensing organs that detect electromagnetic fields of potential prey. These can detect 5/1,000,000,000 of a Volt, which means that if you’re within a mile and a half of a Great White, it knows you’re there and where you are. To paraphrase Sarah Conner, everything about the Great White is designed to make it a more effective Terminator.
I have detailed files on human anatomy
The one redeeming feature of the Great White? Their lateral line system, which they use to detect vibrations in the water. Again, this makes them better hunters. Why exactly this makes for a redeeming quality, nobody knows. We’re really trying to find some positives here.
In the world of sharks, Great Whites are just different. They’re the most terrifying, the most awful, and the most terrifyingly graceful. Once the Monterey Bay Aquarium in Monterey, California got a hold of a baby Great White that a fisherman caught in his net, apparently after being possessed of some kind of death wish. Watching even a five-foot Great White prowling a massive tank, surrounded by other species of shark and fish, one could not help but stare in complete awe as its terrifying beauty emerged from the far shadows of the tank and swam by the glass, unmolested and unperturbed in its role as Nature’s perfect predator. It sailed along like a bored airplane, strong and graceful. That very same shark later killed everyone at the zoo and escaped to Mexico.
The Great White is one of two shark species* that can breech the water, which is a consequence both of its speed and of its interest in seeing if there’s anything to eat in the air. Great Whites have been known to take out low-flying Cessnas.
I promise I’m not up to anything.
But still, no matter how much of its time the Great White spends looking for people to eat (78%), for an animal that does one thing (hunting/killing), it does it really well. Perhaps a little too well. Or a lot too well. You see, in many ways the Great White is a one-trick pony – but it’s a really good trick. And instead of a pony, it’s a deadly shark with no feelings.
One last thing you should know: Great Whites make terrible pets. Just awful, awful pets.
*The other is the Mako Shark, which is also the fastest shark, though only with respect to lateral forward motion, whereas the Great White is the fastest eater.
Close to Shore by Michael Capuzzo. A terrifying-yet-informative recounting of the 1916 Jersey Shore Great White attacks, wherein a confused Great White actually swam up Matawan Creek to do some more eating.
The Devil’s Teeth by Susan Casey. An equally terrifying-yet-informative book about the Great White research that takes place on the nearly-barren Farallon Islands, 30 miles off San Francisco. The gist is that Great Whites are amazing creatures, and also they want to eat you.