White Shark

Carcharodon carcharias

white shark, great white shark, white pointer, white death, requin blanc (Fr.), grand requin blanc (Fr.)

INTRODUCTION

The white shark is the best known and most feared shark in the world. However, its devilish reputation that originated from movies such as Jaws and which is perpetuated in sensationalistic media reports, is unwarranted. This shark is nonetheless considered to be highly dangerous as it may attack humans under certain conditions. Few Canadians are aware that the white shark frequents the east and west coasts of Canada, and even the St. Lawrence. In fact, the majority of white shark sightings in Canada have occurred in the maritime provinces.

 

In the North Atlantic, the white shark is present in all of the maritime provinces and in Quebec. Although the majority of sightings have occurred in the Bay of Fundy (New Brunswick and Nova Scotia), the white shark has also been reported in P.E.I., Newfoundland, and in the St. Lawrence Estuary. A white shark was even brought ashore in Rivière-Portneuf, less than an hour from Les Escoumins, a popular dive destination in Quebec.

AUTHOR: Jeffrey Gallant

LAST MODIFIED: February 26, 2016

VIDEO: White shark filmed off the coast of Cape Cod by the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries and Atlantic White Shark Conservancy in 2015.

NAMES

Scientific Name: Carcharodon carcharias* (Linnaeus, 1758)

*sharp-toothed shark: Carcharodon comes from the Greek words "karcharos," meaning "to sharpen", and "odous," meaning "teeth".

 

Common Names: White shark, great white shark, white pointer, white death, requin blanc (Fr.), grand requin blanc (Fr.)

 

AUTHOR: Jeffrey GallantLAST MODIFIED: February 26, 2016

SIZE AND APPEARANCE

Maximum length: Up to 7.1 m (23')

Average length: 4.5 m (14')

Weight: Up to 2,300 kg (5,070 lbs)

 

The white shark is the largest carnivorous fish in the world. Although the Greenland shark rivals the white shark in length, the white shark has up to twice the girth and mass of a Greenland shark. A white shark measuring 5.23 m (17.17 ft) was captured off Prince-Edward-Island in 1983. Its age was estimated at 17 years based on the growth bands in its vertebra. The white shark's colouration and colour distribution enables it to blend into its environment and to attack prey without being seen.

AUTHOR: Jeffrey Gallant

LAST MODIFIED: February 26, 2016

DENTITION

The white shark's teeth are large, triangular and serrated. Teeth in the lower jaw are slightly narrower. The total number of teeth is approximately 300 arranged in several rows.

 

(Below) Upper and lower teeth of the white shark. Image: RadCliffe (1916) Bull. Bur. Fish. Circ. 822

AUTHOR: Jeffrey Gallant

LAST MODIFIED: February 26, 2016

DISTRIBUTION (MARITIME PROVINCES AND QUEBEC)

The white shark has one of the widest ranges of any shark species. It is found from sub-polar to tropical conditions. In the Atlantic Ocean, the distribution of the white shark extends from Newfoundland to Florida. It has been documented as far west as Rivière-Portneuf in the St. Lawrence, only 40 km east of Les Escoumins, Quebec's most popular dive site.

 

The white shark routinely ventures into shallow water and bays in search of marine mammals such as seals but it does not enter brackish or fresh water. Its seasonal excursions into the Maritimes and Quebec normally occur from July to October. There were 32 confirmed or probable records of the white shark in Atlantic Canada between 1874 and 2006, compared to 14 reports in British Columbia from 1961 to 2006.

 

VIDEO: White shark filmed by a passenger on a whale-watching boat approximately two kilometres from St. Andrews, New Brunswick (Passamaquoddy Bay) in 2014.

ST. LAWRENCE: Although the white shark has only been reported four times in Quebec, its presence in the Gulf of St. Lawrence is neither recent nor is it exclusively related to climate change. Increased protection of both the white shark and seals, as well as global warming, may result in more frequent observations of the white shark in Atlantic Canada and the St. Lawrence.

 

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AUTHOR: Jeffrey Gallant

LAST MODIFIED: October 12, 2016

PREY

The white shark is an opportunistic predator that will eat just about anything that comes across its path, either dead or alive.

 

VERIFIED STOMACH CONTENTS

 

Fish: (Among many others) Atlantic salmon, hake, halibut, mackerel, tuna, other sharks and skates

 

Mammals: Large cetaceans (usually dead), dolphin, porpoise, seals, sea lions and other pinnipeds

 

Others: Birds, sea turtles

AUTHOR: Jeffrey Gallant

LAST MODIFIED: February 26, 2016

VIDEO: Failed predation attempt on a seal off Monomoy, Cape Cod, filmed by the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries and the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy in 2015.

PREDATORS

The only confirmed predators of the white shark are the orca (Orcinus orca) and the white shark itself.

AUTHOR: Jeffrey Gallant

LAST MODIFIED: February 26, 2016

REPRODUCTION

Little is known about the white shark's reproduction. It is ovoviviparous and it reaches sexual maturity at around 15 years. Although birth has never been observed, gestation is believed to last around 14 months. Females give birth to 2 to 14 pups measuring approximately between 100 cm and 165 cm at birth.

AUTHOR: Jeffrey Gallant

LAST MODIFIED: February 26, 2016

LIFE EXPECTANCY

Believed to live up to 60 years.

AUTHOR: Jeffrey Gallant

LAST MODIFIED: February 26, 2016

ATTACKS

The white shark is highly visual and curious. It typically investigates boats and other floating objects in its vicinity. Attacks on humans attributed to the white shark in Canada are all associated with boats in the Maritimes. One man died from drowning after a white shark attacked the victim's dory off Cape Breton (Nova Scotia) in 1953. No divers have ever been attacked by a white shark in Canada.

AUTHOR: Jeffrey Gallant

LAST MODIFIED: February 26, 2016

FISHERIES

None. Occasionally captured as by-catch.

AUTHOR: Jeffrey Gallant

LAST MODIFIED: February 26, 2016

STATUS

COSEWIC (Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada)

 

Shark, White | Carcharodon carcharias | Atlantic population

Status: Endangered

Last Examination and Change: April 2006 (New)

Canadian Occurrence: Atlantic Ocean

Status Criteria: A2b

 

Reason for Designation: This very large apex predator is rare in most parts of its range, but particularly so in Canadian waters, which represent the northern fringe of its distribution. There are only 32 records over 132 years for Atlantic Canada. No abundance trend information is available for Atlantic Canada. Numbers have been estimated to have declined by about 80% over 14 years (less than one generation) in areas of the Northwest Atlantic Ocean outside of Canadian waters. The species is highly mobile, and individuals in Atlantic Canada are likely seasonal migrants belonging to a widespread Northwest Atlantic population; hence the status of the Atlantic Canadian population is considered to be the same as that of the broader population. Additional considerations include the long generation time (~23 years) and low reproductive rates (estimated gestation is 14 months and average fecundity is 7 live-born young) of this species, which limit its ability to withstand losses from increase in mortality rates. By-catch in the pelagic long line fishery is considered to be the primary cause of increased mortality.

AUTHOR: Jeffrey Gallant

LAST MODIFIED: February 26, 2016

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