Great White Shark, White Pointer.
A very large, heavy bodied shark with a conical snout. Prominent keel on either side of caudal peduncle. Caudal fin large and lunate. Upper teeth broadly triangular; single cusp with fine serrations. Lower teeth narrower than top.
Dorsal coloration light grey, slate grey, or brownish-grey. Often with a small black blotch near the pectoral insertion. Irregular countershading line. Off-white ventrally.
Maximum length about 6m. Numerous anecdotal accounts exist of larger white sharks but none have been accurately measured by scientists.
Temperate and tropical seas but white sharks are far less common in the tropics. Often found inshore but also present in deep water off the continental shelf during long distance migrations. Surface to 1300m. Seasonal aggregations occur around pinniped colonies.
Cosmopolitan around most temperate coastlines within the white shark’s preferred temperature range. Population density appears to be directly linked to the recovery or scarcity of pinnipeds.
The White Shark is caught as bycatch mostly in inshore fisheries in a range of gears, such as longlines, setlines, gillnets, trawls, hand-held rod and reel, and fish-traps; it is rarely caught in offshore pelagic fisheries (Bruce 2008, Lowe et al. 2012, Dewar et al. 2013, Lyons et al. 2013, Francis 2017, Onate-Gonzalez et al. 2017). The species has a relatively high post-release survival in net fisheries (Lyons et al. 2013, Benson et al. 2018). The White Shark is targeted in beach protection programs in Australia and South Africa that use drum-lines and gillnets; however, in some instances these programs release live sharks (Dudley and Simpfendorfer 2006, Bruce 2008, Reid et al. 2011, Braccini et al. 2017, Kock et al. 2018, Lee et al. 2018, Roff et al. 2018). A shark control program in Réunion Island targets Tiger Sharks (Galeocerdo cuvier) and Bull Sharks (Carcharhinus leucas), with no captures of White Sharks reported to date (Florida Museum 2019).
Citations and References
Rigby, C.L., Barreto, R., Carlson, J., Fernando, D., Fordham, S., Francis, M.P., Herman, K., Jabado, R.W., Liu, K.M., Lowe, C.G, Marshall, A., Pacoureau, N., Romanov, E., Sherley, R.B. & Winker, H. 2019. Carcharodon carcharias. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2019: e.T3855A2878674. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2019-3.RLTS.T3855A2878674.en. Downloaded on 02 December 2020.
A viviparous species without a placenta. Litter size 7-14.
Juvenile white sharks (less than 2m in length) mostly feed on bony fishes and small sharks. Larger white sharks predate on marine mammals, especially pinnipeds, and whale carcasses when available. Adult great whites will also take other sharks, and fishes.
Great white sharks have a complex social structure involving size hierarchy. Similarly sized animals have been recorded swimming side by side to assess relative size, wherein the smaller animal will abandon captured prey to avoid conflict.
White sharks are known to undergo extremely long migrations e.g. between California and Hawaii, and between South Africa and Australia.
Reaction to divers
An extremely dangerous shark species that has been implicated in numerous, unprovoked, fatal attacks. When encountered on or around reefs, white sharks are generally cautious but may approach closely. If a white shark is spotted whilst on a normal dive it would be wise to leave the water at the first opportunity. White shark attacks are most common on divers that are spear fishing or near seal and sea lion colonies where attacks may be from misidentification.
In baited situations, white sharks are generally quite cautious but most will eventually come very close to the cage; sometimes even biting at the bars.
Some operators offer the opportunity for experienced divers to dive outside of the cage. Regardless of the presence of a safety diver, this is an extremely dangerous activity that is frowned upon by most other operators, and is illegal in most areas where white shark cage diving is available. As well as the danger to oneself, an attack will almost certainly have negative repercussions for the white sharks, and white shark tourism in that area.
White sharks can be reliably encountered at a handful of places:
About a dozen liveaboard dive vessels run white shark cage diving trips to Guadalupe Island off the west coast of Baja, Mexico. Most boats leave from Ensenada.
The encounters are seasonal. Trips are usually offered between June and November although the sharks are there a bit longer.
Small males (3-4m) arrive first at the beginning of the season. The bigger females arrive in September. The visibility at Guadalupe is exceptional and the encounters are consistent. Most boats have surface cages for non-certified divers, and a submersible cage that is lowered to 10m for a different perspective.
Contact Big Fish Expeditions to arrange your Great White Shark Cage Diving Trip.
There are also single day cage diving trips offered to the Farallon Islands in California. However, no one is allowed to chum for sharks so the encounters are very hit-and-miss.
On the east coast, great white sharks have starting returning to the grey seal colonies off New England since the grey seal numbers have rebounded. No chumming or cage diving is allowed in the area but anyone who decides to dive near the colony, should keep an eye out for large shapes in the mist!
Operators based in Simonstown visit Sea Island from June through September. Encounters have become less reliable since orcas passed through the area in 2018 but the lure of 70,000 cape fur seals will no doubt bring the sharks back eventually. Visitbility at Seal Island (and elsewhere in South Africa) is usually very green.
Seal Island is also the best place to watch breeching great white sharks. The boats tow a decoy that the sharks attack; often explosively jumping clear of the water in their attempts to incapacitate their prey.
Gansbaai Kleinbaai is another good area for cage diving. Some operators drop their cages quite close to the coast, others take their guests to Dyer Island.
Operators run multi-day liveaboard dive trips from Port Lincoln in South Australia to the Neptune Islands. Encounters are generally good for much of the year.
The most unique aspect of diving here is the submersible cage which (weather permitting) is lowered onto the sea floor, so the divers are able to enjoy the perspective of the sharks swimming towards them over the reef.
Great White cage diving trips were historically offered at Stewart Island but the NZ government banned all forms of shark feeding in 2018.