Great White Habitats: Where Do Great White Sharks Live?

Written by Colby Maxwell
Published: July 14, 2022
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The great white shark may be one of the most famous (or infamous) sharks in the entire world. These sharks go by many names, including white sharks, white pointers, or simply great whites. Regardless of which name you use, the universal fear associated with these fish is ever-present. Thankfully, actual shark attacks are extremely rare. Still, if you are worried about great whites, it’s probably good to find out where they live! Let’s explore the habitats of these fish and officially discover where Great white sharks live.

Where Do Great White Sharks live?

Great White Habitats: Where Do Great White Sharks Live?
The great white shark lives in most oceans around the world.

©Fiona Ayerst/

Great white sharks are found in almost all coastal and offshore regions in the world’s oceans.

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If you live near a coast or visit regularly, you may want to know if great whites venture into your region, especially if you plan to do any swimming! Well, unfortunately, the bad news is that great whites can be found near every coastline in the world. In fact, great whites can be found in most coastal waters in every single major ocean in the world. The only places in the world that great whites aren’t commonly found in are the polar regions, notably the Arctic and Southern Oceans.

The greatest concentrations of great whites can be found in the United States along the California coast, South Africa, Japan, Oceania, Chile, and in some places in the Mediterranean Sea. The highest population densities of great whites can be found off the coast of Dyer Island, South Africa. Dyer Island is commonly referred to as “shark alley” and supports great whites with its population of 60,000 seals.

In many areas, great whites have been killed or pushed out. Thankfully, initiatives to save certain great white populations have helped them to recover in some places. In New England, for example, great whites were almost totally killed off. After the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, however, seal populations along Cape Cod have grown, bringing the sharks back.

What kind of habitat do Great Whites prefer?

Great White Habitats: Where Do Great White Sharks Live?
Great whites prefer coastal waters with lots of seals, their favorite food.

©Sergey Uryadnikov/

With such a wide distribution, it can be hard to pin down a specific type of habitat they prefer. Generally, great whites are regarded as epipelagic fish, meaning they mostly reside in the pelagic zone of the ocean. The pelagic zone can be split into five zones; epipelagic, mesopelagic, bathypelagic, abyssopelagic, and hadopelagic. The epipelagic zone, the ones great whites mostly inhabit, is from the surface of the ocean to about 650 feet deep. The reason that great whites are epipelagic is due to their prey, primarily fur seals, sea lions, whales, other sharks, and bony fish species. In places these primary prey sources are extremely plentiful, you can almost always expect great whites to be near.

In recent years, there have been some challenges as to how to classify the regions that the great white inhabits. Although they hunt in the epipelagic zone, they seem to change behaviors when in the open ocean. After tagging teams recorded multiple sharks spending large amounts of time around 3,900 geet in the open ocean, researchers began evaluating the behavior more deeply. Current data suggests that the sharks dive to these depths when traveling long distances, notably from Baja California to Hawaii.

What kind of water temperatures do Great White Sharks prefer?

Great white generally prefer waters that range from 54 to 75 °F, although they can be found swimming in regions slightly out of this range.

How deep do Great Whites swim?

Great White Habitats: Where Do Great White Sharks Live?
Great whites have been recorded diving to 3,900 feet, challenging how scientists always viewed their normal habitat.

©Byron K. Dilkes/

Although great whites hunt near coastlines along the surface of the ocean, more reports on just how deep these sharks can go keep coming out. One of the most common journeys that sharks around Baja make is from Baja to Hawaii. During the journey, they regularly cruise around 3,000 feet down. Once they arrive, they rise to the surface and dive to around 1,000 for 10 minutes at a time. The deepest a great white has been recorded at is around 3,900 feet.

Are Great White sharks stationary, or do they migrate?

As a general rule, great white sharks are highly migratory. The primary reasons that great whites migrate are for food and mating, although it isn’t always clear the exact path they take. Incredibly, great whites have been recorded traveling 12,000 miles within nine months. The shark was traveling from South Africa to Australia’s northwestern coast and back. With so much time migrating, it’s possible that great whites have behaviors that scientists have yet to study, especially if these sharks are congregating in places that haven’t been documented yet.

One of the most common shark migrations is from the Baja California Peninsula to Hawaii, with the eventual return to Baja. Generally, the sharks will stay in Hawaii for 100 days before heading back.

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Great White Shark in pond
The great white shark is the largest predatory species of fish
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About the Author

Colby is a freelance writer from Charlotte, North Carolina. When he isn't distracted by his backyard birdfeeder, you can find him camping, exploring, and telling everyone around him about what he's recently learned. There's a whole world to learn about and Colby is content to spend his life learning as much as he can about it!

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