Physical Description

  • Streamlined, torpedo-shaped body.
  • Powerful swimmers, with large tails and iconic dorsal (back) fins.
  • Slate gray coloration on upper bodies, with white underbellies (where their name comes from).
  • 300 serrated, triangular teeth in several stacked rows in mouth.
  • Can reach a length of 15-20 feet and a weight of 2.5 tons or more.


  • Found all over the world, all temperate and tropical waters.
  • Breed on coasts of North America, North Africa and Mediterranean, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, East Asia.


  • Live in the open ocean, and can cross whole ocean basins.
  • Breed in coastal waters.


  • Males mature at 9-10 years of age, and females mature at 14-16 years of age.
  • The eggs stay inside the mother as they develop, and then she gives birth to live young.
  • Gestation period is currently unknown.
  • Litter sizes range from 2-10 pups, each 3-5 feet at birth.
  • It’s believed that off the coast of North America, great whites give birth off the warm coast of southern California.


  • Sea lions, seals, elephant seals, cape fur seals, small toothed whales, dolphins, sea turtles, halibut, carrion.
  • Humans are not one of their prey! Bites are exploratory, as sharks are naturally curious, but once they taste a human, they release them.


  • Orcas only known predator.

Interesting Facts

  • Though you know them as great white sharks, their correct name is actually white sharks. That is because there is no lesser white shark to compare their size to!  
  • Although they have 300 teeth, they do not chew their food. They rip it into pieces and swallow it whole.
  • They are the largest predatory fish on earth.
  • They can swim at up to 15 miles per hour.
  • They can jump and leave the water completely when attacking prey from underneath.
  • They can detect a drop of blood in 25 gallons of water! 
  • Their populations are declining around the world due to overfishing, being hunted for their fins and teeth, and incidental catching in gill nets. They are considered a vulnerable species by the IUCN.

Sources: National Geographic; World Wildlife Fund; MarineBio.Org;

Photo: Howard Hall