Not On Exhibit
About Great White Sharks
The great white shark (Carcharodon carcharias)
is a legendary hunter. Dating back 50 million years or more, it's the world's largest predatory fish, and can reach 22 feet in length and weigh more than two tons. It's an apex predator—an animal at the top of the food web, with no natural predators other than humans.
Young white sharks are believed to eat fishes, rays and other sharks. Adults eat larger prey, including pinnipeds (sea lions and seals), fish, small-toothed whales, sea otters and sea turtles. They also eat carrion (dead animals that they have found floating in the water).
Because adult white sharks are highly migratory animals found in oceans around the world, little is known about their life history. They may live 20 years or more. They’re able to sense minute amounts of blood in the water and the faint electrical fields given off by the bodies of potential prey species. They can swim at speeds up to 25 miles per hour in short bursts, and have been observed leaping out of the water in pursuit of prey. Females give birth to a litter of two to 14 live pups that are up to five feet long. The pups swim away from the mother immediately after birth; there is no maternal caregiving.
Adaptations for Survival
The adult great white shark is able to maintain a body temperature 10-18 degrees Fahrenheit above the temperature of the surrounding water. This is accomplished through its large mass and a highly developed heat exchange in the circulatory system. This system prevents heat from escaping as blood circulates through the gills and near the body surface. Warm muscles are able to contract more rapidly than cold ones, so an elevated body temperature allows the shark to work efficiently in cold water, particularly when the shark dives to deep, cold water to hunt fishes and squids.
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No Silverware Required
Scientists have determined that great white shark biting is not a haphazard series of chomps, but rather a predetermined progression. First, a white shark lifts its snout as much as 40 degrees and drops its lower jaw at the same time, opening its mouth to a suitable size for the food (left image). Then the shark protrudes its upper jaw from its snout, baring its gums in preparation to take a bite.
Together, these movements produce the startling image of a white shark bite: the raised upper jaw, sharp rows of teeth, exposed gums and connective tissue thrusting forward from the roof of its mouth (right image).
Once the prey is in the shark’s mouth, it lifts its lower jaw, trapping the prey so it can't escape. Finally, the shark retracts its upper jaw and lowers its snout, applying the force necessary to take a single bite of food.
The jaws of a white shark are filled with up to 300 very sharp teeth that can be three inches long and have serrations, like a saw. The narrow teeth on the bottom hold prey, and the triangular ones on top are for cutting.
Different types of sharks have teeth of different shapes. In general, the shape of a shark's tooth has to do with the type of food it eats and the way it hunts.
A shark has several rows of teeth in its mouth. Sharks bite with the outer row of teeth, but eventually these fall out. A tooth from the row behind moves up to take its place.