White shark - Carcharodon carcharias


Illustration © Marc Dando

A large shark with a heavy spindle-shaped body, conical snout, caudal keel and lunate caudal fin.

Slate brown to black above, white below. There is often a black spot at the pectoral fin axil and undersides of pectoral fins have black markings that vary among individuals.

Males begin to mature at 7.8 ft [2.4 m], and may reach 18 ft [5.5 m]. Maximum length is at least 20.9 ft [6.4 m], possibly over 26.25 ft [8 m].

Large triangular serrated teeth in both jaws. Teeth of the upper jaw are broad, lower jaw teeth are narrower.

This is a coastal and offshore shark of continental and insular shelves. The shark has been found off oceanic islands, and it also occurs close inshore. It penetrates shallow bays in coastal waters and may even venture into the surf. The shark is frequently found in the vicinity of pinniped colonies and has been caught at a depth of 4,199 ft [1280 m].

Temperate, subtropical and tropical waters worldwide. In the western Atlantic: Newfoundland to Argentina, including the Bahamas. Eastern Atlantic: France to the Cape of Good Hope, and the Mediterranean Sea. Eastern Pacific: Gulf of Alaska to Chile. Central Pacific: Easter Island, Hawaiian Islands and Marshall Islands. Western Pacific: Siberia to Tasmania. Red Sea and Indian Ocean including South Africa and Mozambique, Madagascar, Mauritius and Seychelles, and Western Australia.


  • General – This species is able to maintain a body temperature as much as 14.4ºF [8ºC] above the ambient water temperature. By keeping the temperature of muscles and internal organs higher than the surrounding water, the white shark’s muscular strength and energy level is greater than that of a cold-bodied shark.

  • Prey – In general, juveniles feed on fish, while adult sharks feed primarily on marine mammals.

  • Reproduction – Ovoviviparous.

This is the super-predator; it is without question the most formidable of all sharks. The white shark swims stiffly, and is capable of great speed. A shark, implanted with a sonic tag, had an average cruising speed of 3.2 kph. The shark sometimes raises its head above the water (called, “spy hops”), a behavior frequently observed in the vicinity of seal colonies and in baited situations.

The white shark is intelligent, curious and learns by experience. However the shark does not have hands and it often uses its teeth to inspect an unfamiliar object.

Danger to humans – sightings of a white shark does not mean that an attack is inevitable; the shark is often indifferent to divers. However, this species has been implicated in numerous unprovoked attacks on swimmers, surfers and divers. Most bites by white sharks are not fatal, but incidents in which a white shark partially consumed a human have occurred. In baited situations divers are advised to remain inside a shark cage.

This species is protected in South African territorial waters. It is also a protected species along the eastern coast of the United States, Malta and Australia. In 2004, the white shark was listed on Appendix II of CITES, and it is listed on Appendix I and II of CMS (Bonn Convention).