This month we're showcasing the infamous Great White Shark…

This supreme apex predator is perfectly adapted to their environment. With a large torpedo shaped body and powerful tail they're truly built for speed. At top speed they can reach up to 25mph.

Great White Sharks belong to a group of sharks (known as the mackerel sharks) who have a remarkable adaptation that enables them to retain warmth. This makes them much more efficient hunters.

Sharks lose a lot of heat through their gills, where blood vessels are exposed to the cooler water. To minimise heat loss mackerel sharks have a network of tiny capillaries which act as a heat exchange system (known as a rete mirabile). Blood vessels carrying warm deoxygenated blood to the gills pass alongside cold oxygenated blood going to the body. As they pass in opposite directions heat is exchanged and returned to the muscles.

Amazingly the body temperature of mackerel sharks can be 10°C higher than the surrounding water.

Great White Sharks vary in colour (from olive to brown or grey) with a white underbelly, which is what is thought to have given them their name. This counter shading acts as camouflage. Concealed from above and below, they’re able to sneak up on unsuspecting prey.

When turned on their back, Great White Sharks enter a trance-like state known as tonic immobility. It’s thought that being upside down disorientates them, causing this unusual response. The behaviour could be related to mating but nobody knows for sure.

In some cases Orca have figured out how to use this to their advantage. Off the coast of California they’ve been seen preying on White Sharks, pinning them upside down. Unable to respond, the shark suffocates and is then eaten.

As a top predator White Sharks play a key role in keeping our oceans healthy. They do this by keeping other populations in check and preying on the sick and old. This prevents the spread of disease and helps to improve the gene pool.

Scientists estimate that White Sharks can live 70 years or more. Making them one of the longest-living sharks!

  • SCIENTIFIC NAME: Carcharodon carcharias

  • FAMILY: Lamnidae (Mackerel Sharks)


  • DIET: They have a varied diet including, fish, sharks, rays, sea mammals and birds. They’re also opportunistic feeders and will scavenge on dead whales.

  • DISTRIBUTION: Widespread but mostly found in temperate seas. Hot spots include: South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Northeast US, California and the Pacific coast of Mexico.

  • HABITAT: Shallow and coastal waters. They also travel across the open ocean, at depths of 0-300m. Commonly aggregate around rocky reefs near colonies of seals, sea lions, and walruses.


Love Great White Sharks?

Find out more about this mighty ocean predator and support vital White Shark research by adopting a White Shark today. 

Adopt a Great White Shark

Related Links:

► Check out more incredible sharks and rays covered in our Creature Features

► Discover more fin-tastic facts by visiting our Discover Sharks section

Banner image © Terry Goss