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White Shark Facts

Awesome video of a free diver riding the fin of a Great White Shark.

Great White Sharks (Carcharodon Carcharias) off Guadalupe Island. Credit: Elias Levy. [C.C. by 2.0]

Fast Facts about Great White Sharks

Great White Sharks (Carcharodon Carcharias) off Guadalupe Island. Credit: Elias Levy. [C.C. by 2.0])

Name:Carcharodon carcharias
The genus name Carcharodon comes from the greek words meaning "Ragged Tooth"
The species name carcharias comes from greek meaning "point of shark" or "Type of Shark"
Common names include the Great White Shark, the White Shark, and in Australia, the White Pointer

Order:  Lamniformes - Family:  Lamnidae - Genus:   Carcharodon - Species:   Carcharias

Age: Miocene to Recent
In the Miocene, the Isurus (Mako) genus branches into the modern mako shark sand the White shark lineage.

Distribution: Global
Great Whites are found globally in near-shore and off-shore temperate waters. Sometimes they can be found in tropical waters, but are not found in arctic waters.
Common locations include Western U.S., Eastern U.S., South Africa, and Australia.

Body Size:
4.5 - 6.1 m (15 - 20 feet) They are the worlds largest predatory fish. Adult lengths vary from 15 to 21 feet, although anything over 18 feet is rare.
Most accounts of Great Whites over 20 feet are unreliable, or cannot be confirmed.
They can weigh over 5000 lbs.

Diet: Sea Lions, Seals, Small Whales
They usually feed on marine mammals, such as Seals, Sea Lions, and Small Whales. They will also scavange off large carcasses. younger Great Whites will also eat sea turtles, and fish... Basically anything they can get their jaws on!
Humans are not a food source!

Physical Appearance:
Great Whites have a white underbelly and a grey dorsal side. They are torpedo shaped with a large, powerful tail. Their jaws contain rows of serrated teeth (like steak knives).

Conservation Status:
Population estamates for Great Whites are not known, but they appear to be rare.
Great Whites are listed as Vunerable by the IUCN. It is also a protected species in some locations.
They will probably eventually be added to the endangered species list.

Shark Attack!:
Contrary to many movies and the media, Great Whites do not consider humans as a food source. They will not actively hunt and eat humans (Just look at the video at the top of this page!).
Most shark attacks come from the Bull Shark. However, due to its size, there is a much higher fatality rate in the few Great White shark attacks.

Fun Facts:

Distance Travelers! Tagged Great Whites have been tracked traveling back and forth between California and Hawaii, and Australia and Africa!

Great Whites perfer to ambush their prey. They will often sneak up on a seal or sea-lion from below, and shoot up to the surface to attack. Sometimes they are traveling so fast, they breach, or leave the water, when grasping the prey.

Big Nose!
A Great White can smell a tiny drop of blood in 26 gallons of water (100 litres)!

Built for Speed! They are fast! Great Whites can swim in bursts up to 25 mph (40 km/hr)!

Great White Shark Facts and Information - The Details

Great White Shark (Carcharodon Carcharias)Credit: Terry Goss [GFDL, CC-BY-SA3.0]

Carcharodon carcharias (Smith, 1838)

The Size of Great White Sharks

The Great White shark, Carcharodon carcharias, is a top predator today. Besides the plankton-feeding Basking and Whale sharks, Great Whites are among the largest of flesh-eating sharks (The Greenland shark is also slightly larger).

Since they are some of the largest sharks, there are lots of "fish tales" in pop culture about their sizes.

The Official Size:

According to the FAO, Great Whites range on average between 4 feet (1.3 m) and 18 feet (5.5m). As for the largest one ever caught, the Canadian Shark Research Laboratory reports the largest Great White ever accurately measured was 20 feet (6.1 m). This female shark was caught in a net in 1988 off Prince Edward Island in Canada.

Great White Shark caught by Hislop in 1985

Unofficial Sizes:

Reports of larger Great Whites abound, but have not been scientifically verified. Notable "fish tales" include:

The Cojimar Specimen: This Shark was caught in Cuba in 1945. It was estimated to be 6.4 meters (21 feet) in length. However, photo analysis of this shark by the ReefQuest Center for Shark Research indicate the shark was much smaller, around 16 feet in length.

The Seven Star Lake Shark: This Great White was caught in a net in Taiwan in 1997. It was estimated to be around 6.7 meters (22 feet) in length. This is not scientifically verified though.

The 1985 Australian White Pointer: This Great White was caught by Vic Hislop. The shark was reportedly measured at 6.6 meters (21.6 feet). Again, it was not scientifically verified.

So, What is the worlds largest Great White Shark?

We don't know! Measurements of the large ones are not verified. However, because of the many reports of larger sharks, it's probable that Great Whites can reach sizes over 20 feet in length. Also, based on fossil Great White teeth, it is known they can reach larger sizes. From studying fossil teeth, Michael D. Gottfried extrapolated the size of these prehistoric Great Whites using living Great Whites. He reached a size of 7 m (23 feet) for these huge Great Whites (Michael D. Gottfried, et al. 1996: figure 3).

Finally, here is a video showing Deep Blue, A female Great White Shark that was tagged in 2013 off of Guadalupe Island. A researcher, Mauricio Hoyos Padilla, estimates her length to possibly be over 20 feet.

This video shows an exceptionally large Great White captured on video. She is called Deep Blue and is over 20 feet in length.

The Distribution of Great Whites

Great Whites are usually found near shore and globally in all tropical and temperate waters. In the Americas, they range from southern Alaska and Nova Scotia down to Chile. In Eurasia, they range from Russia to New Zealand, and Britain to South Africa. Famous Great White locations include California, Australia, and South Africa.

Recent studies of tagged Great Whites indicate they routinely migrate great distances. A California population travels back and forth to Hawaii, while a population of Great Whites in Australia travel to Africa!

Great White Diet

Great Whites favorite food consists of pinnipeds, such as sea lions and seals. Populations of Great Whites can often be found near sea lion and seal colonies. When younger, Great Whites will feed on a variety of food, including fish. However, when they reach adulthood, they feed almost exlusively on pinnipeds.

Recently a tracking tag on a 9 foot Great White was recovered. After looking at the data gathered by the tag, it appears the tag and the shark it was on was eaten. The researchers concluded a larger Great White (16 ft) ate the smaller (9 ft) Great White.

Extinct Giant White Shark Facts - Cosmopolitodus (Glikman, 1964)

Cosmopolitodus xiphodon (Giant White Shark) fossil tooth dentintion made from unassociated shark teeth from Aurora, NC

Cosmopolitodus is the name given to the prehistoric Giant White Sharks. These sharks were larger than Great Whites, but their teeth lacked the characteristic serrations of the Great White. The cosmopolitodus sharks are commonly (although incorrectly) referred to as extinct mako sharks, because their teeth look like large mako shark teeth. They have recently been reclassified to the Carcharodon genus, but Cosmopolitodus is still very common to hear.

* These Giant White Sharks ARE NOT Megalodons, megalodons were a larger and completely different shark.

White Shark Origins and Species

The genus Cosmopolitodus first appears in the Oligocene. It is represented by scarce fossil teeth found in Belgium. By the Miocene, there were two types of Cosmopolitodus hastalis: a broad-form shark and a narrow-form shark. Both of these sharks became extinct by the middle of the Pliocene. The broad form version gave rise to the modern Great White sharks.

Image showing various White Shark Species - C. carcharias - C. escheri - C. hastalis [broad form] - C. hastalis [narrow form] - C. planus. *Escheri tooth from Lutz Andres - Megalodon Evolution Artcle

Cosmopolitodus (Carcharodon) hastalis [broad form]

This is the large broad-form extinct Giant White shark. Sometimes it is called C. xiphodon, but this name is invalid.
This is the largest of the Cosmopolitodus/Carcharodon lineage. It appears in the Miocene and becomes extinct in the mid Pliocene. Teeth from these predators can reach sizes over 3". This top predator became extinct just as the modern Great White became more common. This is probably not a coincidence; they would have probably lived in the same environments and had the same food source, and therefore competed. The slightly smaller modern Great White with serrated teeth would have had an advantage over C. hastalis with non-serrated teeth.

Cosmopolitodus (Carcharodon) hastalis [narrow form]

This is the narrow-form extinct Giant White shark. It is another large species. The teeth of this species tend to be slightly narrower than its broad form counterpart. It was around during the same time period as the broad form shark, from the Miocene into the mid Pliocene.

In the middle Miocene, C. hastalis [narrow form] gave rise to two short lived species: C. planus and C. escheri.

Cosmopolitodus (Carcharodon) planus

C. planus was a species that has hastalis looking teeth, but with upper teeth that are hooked. C. planus was a short lived species; it became extinct at the end of the Miocene. C. planus remains are also only found in Pacific sediments, such as California and Japan. A famous location to find these teeth is the "Shark Tooth Hill" area in California.

Cosmopolitodus (Carcharomodus) escheri

C. escheri was an hastalis type shark with VERY weak serrations. It ranges from the late Miocene into early Pliocene and is found only in Atlantic deposits, such as in the Netherlands and the Eastern United States. Although C. escheri had developed slight serrations, it is not a transitional fossil for the modern Great White shark. This shark is often incorrectly called Isurus escheri, but does not belong in the mako shark (Isurus) lineage. A nearly complete skeleton found in Germany was studied in 2014 (Kriwet et al, 2015). The researchers concluded that because of it's dental pattern, a new genus should be erected for C. escheri. They called this genus Carcharomodus. This shark is closely related to Great Whites (Carcharodon), but is not a transitional form.

Recommended Books about Sharks and Fossils

Great White Shark: Myth and Reality
This is a great book about Great White sharks. This 144 page book is geared for a general readers and students and is full of great pictures. The author is a professional photographer who has been researching Great Whites for over 20 years.

Desert Sharks
by Mark Renz, 2009

Desert Sharks, by Mark Renz, takes you to the deserts of Peru in search of prehistoric sharks. This book is full of stunning images and interviews from paleontogists. It traces the the evolution of the Great White Shark, which evolved around 4-5 million years ago in what is now the deserts of Peru.

This 193 page book also contains a ton of beautiful photographs, just look at the one on the cover!

Skullduggery Eyewitness Shark Casting Kit
This is a great educational and creative introduction into the world of sharks. Kids create and paint casts of a Great White, Thresher, Hammerhead shark, and the corresponding shark teeth. They learn basic shark information as well as differences between types of sharks!

High Quality Shark Teeth by Fossilera

The History and Evolution of The Great White Shark (Charcarodon) in a nutshell

Dana Ehret, lead researcher of the study, posing with the Carcharodon hubbelli fossil specimen. Image Credit: Jeff Gage/Florida Museum of Natural History

Great White sharks DID NOT EVOLVE FROM MEGALODON SHARKS, they evolved from an extinct group of Mako sharks in the Pacific Ocean sometime in the late Miocene.

The origins of Great Whites (Carcharodon carcharias) were hotly debated and unclear for many years. Originally many paleontologists thought they had originated from Megalodons, the Megatoothed sharks. Others thought they originated from Mako sharks (Isurus sp.). The problem was a lack of strong evidence pointing in either direction. Fortunately, more evidence started appearing in the early 2000's and then in 2009 paleontologists were able to study (Ehert et al., 2009) a "smoking gun", an associated specimen found in Peru in 1988. This specimen clearly indicated Great Whites evolved from an extinct group of Mako sharks. Finally, in 2012, a newer study (Ehret el al., 2012) solidified any doubts about this specimen and its place in the geologic record.

We can now trace the ancestry of the Great White shark (Carcharodon carcharias) from one chrono species to the next. A reasonable lineage is as follows:

- Isurolamna inflata: Paleocene
- Isurus (Macrorhizodus) praecursor: Eocene/Oligocene?
- Cosmopolitodus desori: Oligocene - Miocene
- Cosmopolitodus (Carcharodon) hastalis [broad form]: Middle Miocene - Pliocene
- Carcharodon hubbelli: Late Miocene
- Carcharodon carcharias: Late Miocene - Recent

Evidence for Great Whites evolving from an extinct group of Mako sharks is briefly discussed below:

1. Associated Dentition comparisons of Megalodons, Makos, and Great Whites.

The teeth dentitions of Megalodons are very different than Great Whites.

Great Whites have a third upper tooth in their dentition that is reduced in size. This allows for more bite pressure on the first two teeth. This peculiar characteristic is also seen in all mako shark dentitions, but not in megalodons.

The reduction in the third upper tooth is a big evolutionary change. One would see transitional fossils of the third tooth slowly being reduced over time. When looking at megalodon dentitions, such as the associated dentition NCSM 13073 from Purdy et al., 2001, and other associated sets, we see no reduction in the third upper tooth. The third tooth remains fairly large and robust in megalodons.

2. The serrations on Megalodons and Great Whites are very different.

Megalodon teeth have very small, regular, and refined serrations.
Great Whites have very course, rough, and irregular serrations. The serrations are completely different
In 2006, Nyberg et al, did a morphometric analysis (a very detailed structure analysis). of various carcharocles species, Mako species, transition fossils, and Great Whites. They concluded Great Whites evolved from ancestral Mako sharks and not the Megatooth sharks.

3. The C. hubbelli transitional fossil from Peru.

This is the Peruvian specimen found in 1988 from the Pisco formation. In 2009 Ehert et al., studied it and pointed out its similarities to C. hastalis and C. carcharias Also, in 2012, Ehert et at. re-studied the specimen and, more importantly, re-dated the sediments of the formation it came from. The age of the fossil was pushed back by 2 million years. Based on the new date, they concluded C. hubelli was a transitional fossil.

The Failed "Great Whites"

A relatively large, broad, serrated tooth design seen in Great Whites has independantly emerged in the fossil record a few times before. The text below discusses some of these failed "Great Whites."

Cosmopolitodus (Carcharomodus) escheri:
The Mako lineage produced another serrated shark, called Cosmopolitodus (Carcharomodus) escheri. Although it superficially looks like a C. carcharias, this species is too old to be in the lineage, as it arose in the mid Miocene. It also only appears in the Atlantic Ocean (Eastern North America and Europe). The species only lasted a few million years before becomming extinct.

Paleocarcharodon orientalis:
This is a medium sized serrated Mako/Mackerel looking shark with side cusps. It's found worldwide and was a very short lived species that appears, then disappears in the Paleocene. It is not related at all to modern Great White sharks.
If you want to see what one of these paleocharcharodon fossil shark teeth looked like, go to the Potomac River page of this website, and look at the "Sample of fossils found" section.

Carcharocles sp.:
The whole lineage of Megatoothed shark is extinct. These giant serrated monsters arose in the Eocene and became extinct in the Pliocene. The whole genus is not related to modern Great White sharks. These huge super predators simply became too specialized for their own good.

Closeup of the jaws of Carcharodon hubbelli from the Pisco formation of Peru. C. hubbelli is a transitional fossil that has characteristics of both a Carcharodon carcharias and a Cosmopolitodus (Carcharodon) hastalis shark.
Image Credit: Jeff Gage/ Florida Museum of Natural History

White Shark Tooth Morphology/ Identification:

The following fossil shark tooth I.D. diagrams show upper and lower teeth of the following species: C. carcharodon, C. hastalis, C. hastalis (broad form), and C. hastalis (narrow form).

Click on a thumbnail to go to the identification, or simply scroll down.

Carcharodon carcharias (Great White Shark)

Carcharodon carcharias are most similar to the Ginat White shark, C. hastalis [broad form] teeth. The difference, of course, is the serrations. C. carcharias have medium to coarse serrations that are irregular. Irregular means the serrations are not all a constant size as in C. megalodons. Instead, the size of each serration varies. This is shown in the diagram below. The Great Whtie Shark is also slightly smaller than the extinct Giant White shark.

A transitional species C. hubbelli has been found in Peru. The teeth of C. hubbelli are partly serrated.

Great White shark tooth Identification. This tooth is from South Carolina

Cosmopolitodus (Carcharodon) hastalis [broad form] - (Extinct Giant White Shark)

C. hastalis [broad form] teeth have very broad crowns. These teeth are the largest of all Extinct White sharks.

Cosmopolitodus hastalis [broad form], giant white shark tooth, lower position, from the Pungo formation near Aurora, NC

Cosmopolitodus hastalis [broad form], giant white shark tooth, upper anterior position, from the Pungo formation near Aurora, NC

This image shows composite rows of upper and lower teeth for C. hastalis [broad form]. This image shows how the teeth change depending on the position in the mouth.

Cosmopolitodus (Carcharodon) hastalis [narrow form] - (Extinct White Shark)

C. hastalis [narrow form] teeth have broader crowns than I. oxyrinchus teeth. The roots are also more compressed, or less elongated, than on I. oxyrinchus teeth.

C. hastalis [narrow form] upper tooth from the calvert formation along the Potomac River.

C. hastalis [narrow form] lower tooth from the calvert formation along the Potomac River.

This image shows composite rows of upper and lower teeth for C. hastalis [narrow form]. This image shows how the teeth change depending on the position in the mouth.

Cosmopolitodus planus - (Hooked White Shark)

C. planus is a short lived species of White Shark. It is only found in Pacific Miocene deposits in California and Japan.

C. planus teeth look similar to a narrow form hastalis tooth, but have a distinctly hooked blade that curves toward the back of the mouth.

Cosmopolitodus planus upper tooth from shark tooth hill in Bakersfield, CA. This tooth is approximately 1.5 inches in height. Notice the distinct hook in the blade

Examples Great White and Giant White Shark Fossils

Great White Shark
Charcarodon carcharias (Linnaeus, 1758)

This is a perfect 2 1/4" Great White found in a creek in South Carolina.

This is a 2 1/8 inch broken Great White found in a drainage ditch in South Carolina

This is small 1 3/16 inch great white tooth from Greens Mill Run, NC.

Extinct Giant White Shark - Cosmopolitodus (Carcharodon) hastalis [broad form]

This is the largest of the White Sharks, although their teeth are non-serrated, they were larger than the living Great White Shark.
They are often called C. xiphodon, but the name C. hastalis [broad form] is the valid version.

This is a perfect large 2 3/4 inch giant white shark tooth specimen from the Yorktown formation of Aurora, NC.

This is a beautiful fossil shark tooth. The enameloid shoulders of thei giant white shark are slightly chipped, but the blade is razor sharp! It's 2 3/8 inch in size from the Yorktown formation of Aurora, NC.

This is a perfect large lower cosmopolitodus hastalis shark tooth. It's 2 1/16 inch in size from the Calvert Cliffs of Maryland.

Here are two cosmopolitodus hastalis shark teeth that have a slant height of slightly over 2 inches. They were found within a few feet of each other at Aurora, NC in the Yorktown Formation.

Here are some additional cosmopolitodus hastalis upper and lower fossil shark teeth from Aurora, NC in the Yorktown Formation.

Extinct Giant White Shark - Cosmopolitodus (Carcharodon) hastalis [narrow form]

This is the smaller non-serrated Extinct White Shark. It looks very similar to a mako shark, and use to be categorized as a mako shark. Many people, out of habit, still call these fossil teeth "mako" sharks.

This is a nice 2" upper Extinct White shark that I found in a clay block at the Calvert Cliffs of Maryland.

Here are two C. hastalis [narrow form] teeth from North Carolina

This is a nice 2 inch lower fossil shark tooth that was found in a clay block. It's from the Calvert Cliffs of Maryland.

Here is a nice orange colored fossil tooth from Brownies Beach, Calvert Cliffs of Maryland.

This is a nice robust slightly worn mako. The left is the labial view, the right is the lingual view.
We found this one while snorkeling off the cliffs. It's from the Calvert Cliffs of Maryland.

This is an interesting yellow/orange "mako". It ahs a weird hook, similar to the I. planus teeth of the Pacific. It's from the Calvert Cliffs of Maryland.

References / Works Cited

Ehret, D. J., H. Hubbell, and B. J. MacFadden. (2009) Exceptional preservation of the white shark Carcharodon (Lamniformes, Lamnidae) from the early Pliocene of Peru. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, 29:1-13. BioOne

Ehret, D. J., MacFadden, B. J., Jones, D. S., Devries, T. J., Foster, D. A. and Salas-Gismondi, R. (2012). Origin of the white shark Carcharodon (Lamniformes: Lamnidae) based on recalibration of the Upper Neogene Pisco Formation of Peru. Palaeontology, 55: 1139-1153. doi: 10.1111/j.1475-4983.2012.01201.x

Gottfried, Michael D., Compagno, Leonard J. V., and Bowman, S. Curtis. (1996). Chapter 7. Size and skeletal anatomy of the Giant Megatooth shark Carcharodon megalodon. pp. 55-66. IN: Klimley, A. Peter, and Ainley, David G. (editors). In: Great White Sharks the Biology of Carcharodon carcharias Academic Press. San Diego, CA. 517 pp.

Jurgen Kriwet, Heike Mewis, and Oliver Hampe. (2015) A partial skeleton of a new lamniform mackerel shark from the Miocene of Europe. Acta Palaeontologica Polonica 60 (4), 2015: 857-875 doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.4202/app.00066.2014

Nyberg, K.G. & Ciampaglio, C.N. & Wray, G.A.. (2006) Tracing the ancestry of the great white shark, Carcharodon carcharias, using morphometric analyses of fossil teeth. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, 26 (4): 806-814 DOI: 10.1671/0272-4634(2006)26[806:TTAOTG]2.0.CO;2

Purdy, R., Schneider, V., Appelgate, S., McLellan, J., Meyer, R. & Slaughter, R. (2001). The Neogene Sharks, Rays, and Bony Fishes from Lee Creek Mine, Aurora, North Carolina. In: Geology and Paleontology of the Lee Creek Mine, North Carolina, III. C. E. Ray & D. J. Bohaska eds. Smithsonian Contributions to Paleobiology, No 90. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington D.C. pp. 71-202.

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