The eerie movie “Jaws” (1975) by Steven Spielberg was inspired by the dreadful reputation of the great white shark. It is the only remaining shark species in the genus Carcharodon and it belongs to the family of mackerel sharks, Lamnidae. Florida waters are home to more than 13 shark species, and the Great white shark forms an important part of the marine ecosystem. At an average length of up to 15 feet and even more, it is undoubtedly the largest, most powerful, and most dangerous predatory fish on Earth! How big are the largest individuals of this species ever encountered off Florida waters? Let’s find out.
How to Identify Great White Sharks
Notable for its formidable size, the great white shark is hard to miss. This species is named for its white underside and gray upper body (in shades of brown or blue), giving it an overall mottled appearance. Uniquely, the darker shade of its back blends with the sea from above; in contrast, it displays a slight silhouette against sunlight from below.
Like many other sharks, great white sharks have a mouth full of rows of about 300 serrated teeth behind their primary teeth. Compared to other shark species, they have larger eyes in proportion to their body size, with the iris of their eye being deep blue instead of black. In addition, the huge shark has a robust, large, conical snout and an exceptional sense of smell to detect prey. Great whites are torpedo-shaped excellent swimmers with a powerful tail that can propel them through the water at a speed of up to 16 miles per hour.
Where Do Great White Sharks Live?
Great white sharks are found in almost all coastal and offshore waters with temperatures between 12 and 24 °C (53.6 and 75.2°F). They can live in both sub-tropical and temperate waters and are also known to move closer to the shores during the spring and summer seasons, making April and October the months of highest shark activity.
The great white shark is an epipelagic species, therefore it’s spotted mostly in favorable feeding environments close to coastlines where there’s a large prey population, such as seals and sea lions. Larger populations of this species are found in the United States, especially in the northeast and California, Japan, South Africa, Chile, Oceania, and the Mediterranean. A large concentration of great white sharks – perhaps one of the largest ever known – can be found around Dyer Island in South Africa.
How Big Are Great White Sharks?
True to their name, great white sharks are gigantic creatures. Females are generally larger than males of this species. Female great whites, on average, measure 15 to 16 ft (4.6 to 4.9 m) while males are 11 to 13 ft (3.4 to 4.0m) long. Great white sharks are also heavy-bodied, with adults weighing about 1,151 – 1,700 lb (522-771 kg) on average. Mature females can grow as large as 1,500 to 2,450 lb (680-1,110kg).
Largest Great White Sharks Found off Florida Waters
OCEARCH is a non-profit group that collects data on sharks by ‘tagging’ them in the ocean so that when a geo-tagged shark swims close enough to the surface of the water, its tracker will “ping” to disclose its location. According to OCEARCH, various massive great whites have been spotted off Florida waters, including;
- The largest great white shark pinged off the Gulf Coast of Florida waters in March 2022 was an individual named Scot, weighing up to 1,644 pounds and measuring 12.3 feet in length.
- Another giant male white shark named Ironbound was tracked near the same locale, weighing nearly 1,000 pounds.
- Coming close second is another enormous great white shark named Breton, geo-located about 13 miles off Port St. Lucie coast in South Florida on June 6, 2022, and found to weigh 1,437 pounds and about 13-ft long.
- Sable is an 11.5 feet-long great white shark found along Florida’s coast and several other unexpected locations along the Gulf of Mexico. The massive shark, estimated to be about 900 pounds, was speculated to be pregnant at the time of discovery.
- Mahone, a huge specimen measuring 13 feet 7 inches and weighing 1,701 pounds, was the largest shark to be tagged by OCEARCH. It was spotted swimming in the waters off North Carolina, though, not Florida.
What is the Largest Great White Shark Ever Recorded?
The largest great white shark ever documented in history is a female shark named Deep Blue, in reference to her majestic beauty, estimated to be about 5,000 pounds (2.5tons) and nearly 20 ft long. When she was discovered, she was heavily pregnant, which contributed to her enormous size. Researchers believe that Deep Blue is about 50 years old and is still not yet done growing. So she is expected to live at least another 25-30 years!
Another specimen, one of the largest great white sharks ever measured, was caught off Prince Edward Island in Canada in 1983 at over 17 feet (5.2 m) long and was listed as one of the world’s five most legendary sharks by the Discovery Channel.
Great White Shark Vs. Megalodon: Which is Bigger?
Even though Deep Blue is the largest great white shark ever recorded, surprisingly, she is not the largest shark specimen in the history of the world. That title is held by the prehistoric Megalodon, an extinct species of mackerel shark that lived approximately 2.3 to 3.6 million years ago. Regarded as a stockier version of the great white shark, it had an average length of 35 feet to up to 67 feet long! Their estimated body mass was between 105,000 pounds to a whopping 227,000 pounds –about 50 times larger than the great whites.
Also, the megalodon has been described as having a single tooth the same size as a human hand and large jaws that could easily fit a whole person. Unlike the great white shark which attacks prey from its soft underside, it uses its strong jaws to break through the chest and puncture the heart and lungs of its prey.
What Do Great White Sharks Eat?
The great white shark is currently considered the world’s largest-known predatory fish and is one of the primary predators of marine mammals, including prey as large as baleen whales. It also preys on other marine animals such as seabirds, seals, dolphins, and smaller whales. The Great White is an apex predator, whose only real predators are orcas. Contrary to what was depicted in the popular novel ‘Jaws’ by Peter Benchley and its film adaptation by Steven Spielberg, great white sharks are not ferocious man-eaters. In truth, humans are not the preferred prey of the great white shark in any form.
Do Great White Sharks Attack Humans?
Despite their fearsome reputation, great white shark attacks on humans are rare because humans are not their preferred prey. But of all shark species, the great white shark is responsible for the highest number of recorded human shark bite incidents, both non-fatal and fatal – about 314 documented unprovoked bite incidents on humans today, most of which were non-fatal. Nevertheless, there have been 29 fatal bite incidents. Most deaths were caused by victims losing blood from the initial shark bite rather than from whole consumption by great whites or critical organ loss.
Meanwhile, many great white shark bite incidents are often the result of a ‘test bite’ or ‘exploratory’ bite. This species test bites an unfamiliar object to identify what it is, so this may cause it to grab a human or surfboard that comes its way. Bites may also occur due to low water visibility or other situations that may distort the shark’s senses. In actuality, research has shown that because great white sharks prefer prey that is fat and rich in protein –like seals, humans are too bony for their liking and not considered worth predating on.
Great White Shark Lifespan
Recent scientific research has estimated the lifespan of great white sharks to be as long as 70 years or more —making this species one of the longest-lived cartilaginous fishes. In addition, research also shows that while male great white sharks take 26 years to reach sexual maturity, the females take 33 years.
Are Great White Sharks Endangered?
According to the IUCN, very little is known about the great white shark’s actual status or population numbers. However, this species is listed as “vulnerable” —just one step away from being endangered. Great white sharks have suffered a significant population decline from the 1970s until now, and the biggest threats are indiscriminate sport fishing and accidentally getting caught in fishing nets. The great white shark is included in Appendix II of CITES, meaning that international trade of the species requires a permit.