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New Jersey Endangered and Threatened Species Field Guide


Image of A white shark.Zoom+ A white shark. Photo by Elias Levy.

White shark

Carcharodon carcharias

Species Group: Fish

Conservation Status

State: Other Classification

 


IDENTIFICATION

When most people think of a shark, this is the species they think of. This is the shark made infamous by movies such as “Jaws”.

The white shark, also known as the great white shark, is a very large shark with a heavy torpedo-shaped body. They are known to reach 21 feet in length and 4,300 pounds. Color is grey above with a white belly. The large first dorsal fin usually has a dark free rear tip and the underside of the pectoral fins are typically tipped in black.

The snout is bluntly pointed. It has long gill slits, strong keels on the caudal peduncle, and a crescent-shaped tail. The teeth are very large, flat, triangular, and serrated.

Image of Range of the white shark in New Jersey.Zoom+ Range of the white shark in New Jersey.

DISTRIBUTION AND HABITAT

The white shark is one of the most wide-ranging species of shark in the world and occurs in all oceans and seas with the exception of polar areas. They can be found in both inshore coastal and offshore waters and tend to concentrate in areas where their prey is also concentrated, such as near seal and sea lion colonies.

DIET

When young, white sharks feed primarily on fish. Adults will prey on fish as well as large marine mammals such as seals, sea lions, and dolphins. They are known to ambush their prey, often leaping out of the water entirely during one of their sneak high-speed attacks. They have also been known to attack unprovoked and kill humans. Due to their large size and strength, even an attack based on mistaken identity (mistaking a surfer as a seal) may be fatal.

LIFE CYCLE

White sharks may live for up to 70 years. Males of this species reach sexual maturity when they are approximately 26 years old while females reach sexual maturity at approximately 33 years old.

White sharks are ovoviviparous, giving birth to 2-10 young every 2-3 years. The young are about 5 feet in length when born. The gestation period is believed to be about one year.

The white shark is one of several shark species which are endothermic, possessing countercurrent heat exchangers within their circulatory system. This allows them to maintain a body temperature which is above the temperature of the water around them. This allows them to hunt at greater speed and at greater depth as well as within waters which are too cold for other shark species.

The only known predator of an adult white shark other than humans, are killer whales.

CURRENT STATUS, THREATS, AND CONSERVATION

The white shark currently has no federal or New Jersey state conservation status. Though it has no legal conservation status in New Jersey, it is still illegal to take, possess, land, purchase, or sell them within the state.

This species is often targeted as a game fish. Reasons for the species decline include both commercial and recreational fisheries and as by-catch. Its slow growth, late maturity, and low rate of reproduction further hamper its recovery. Marine pollution, especially from plastics, also threatens this and many other marine species.

Although this species has been kept in captivity on several occasions for short periods of time, they are unable to be kept for long periods of time – 198 days is the current record.


Text written by Michael J. Davenport in 2016.


REFERENCES

  • Compagno, Leonard, M. Dando and S. Fowler. 2005. Sharks of the World.
Scientific Classification

Kingdom: Animalia
    Phylum: Chordata
       Class: Chondrichthyes
          Order: Lamniformes
             Family: Lamnidae
                Genus: Carcharodon
                   Species: C. carcharias

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