The White Shark
Size and Appearance
A lot of people are surprised to learn that the white shark frequents the east coast of Canada, and even the St. Lawrence. In fact, the white shark is observed more frequently in the Maritimes than in British Columbia. The white shark is undoubtedly the best known and most feared shark. Its maneater reputation, which comes from movies such as «Jaws» and from overly sensationalistic media reports, is false. However, this shark is considered dangerous and it occasionally attacks people.
On the East Coast, the white shark is present off all of the maritime provinces. The majority of sightings and accidental captures have occured in the Bay of Fundy. However, captures have also been reported off Nova Scotia, P.E.I., Newfoundland, and on the northern shore of the St. Lawrence Estuary. A white shark was even brought ashore at the wharf in Rivière-Portneuf, less than an hour from Les Escoumins, a popular dive destination in Quebec. Obviously, this was a very rare event. On the West Coast, most observations of the white shark have occured off Haida Gwaii. No white shark has ever been observed by divers in Canada.
Scientific Name: Carcharodon carcharias* (Linnaeus, 1758)
Carcharodon comes from the Greek words "karcharos," meaning "to sharpen", and "odous," meaning "teeth". Maximus is a Greek word meaning "point" or "type."
White shark, great white shark, white pointer, white death, requin blanc (Fr.), grand requin blanc (Fr.)
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 its prey without being seen.
(Below) White shark (Carcharodon carcharias) at Isla Guadalupe, Mexico. Image © Terry Goss (Creative Commons)
The white shark's teeth are large, triangular and serrated. Teeth in the lower jaw are slightly narrower.
(Above) Right side upper and lower teeth of the white shark. Image: RadCliffe (1916) Bull. Bur. Fish. Circ. 822
(Below) White shark measuring 5.23 m (17.17 ft) caught off Alberton, Prince Edward island in 1983. Images © Jack Woolmer
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The white shark has one of the widest ranges of any shark species. It is found from sub-Arctic to tropical conditions. In the Atlantic Ocean, the distribution of the white shark extends from the island of Newfoundland to Florida. It has been documented as far west as Rivière-Portneuf in the St. Lawrence Estuary, only 40 km east of Les Escoumins, Quebec's most popular dive site. The white shark routinely ventures into shallow water in search of marine mammals such as seals. Its excursions into the Maritimes and Quebec normally occur in August and September. Less than 20 observations have been reported in the Pacific Ocean off British Columbia, mostly off Haida Gwaii.
(Above) Provisional eastern distribution map of Carcharodon carcharias based on research by GEERG. Details on observations (other than year) are available. Map does not include data from the U.S. or Europe. To submit additional sightings or captures, please contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
(Above) Provisional western distribution map of Carcharodon carcharias based on research by GEERG. Details on observations (other than year) are available. Map does not include data from the U.S. or Europe. To submit additional sightings or captures, please contact us at: email@example.com
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
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 12 months. Females give birth to 2 to 14 pups measuring approximately 100 cm at birth.
Unknown. Believed to live at least 30 years.
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.
(Below) Observing white sharks at the Farallon Islands, California. A 'suicidal' California sea lion greets the divers and makes friends with the fake sea lion used to attract sharks to the cage. Images © Jeffrey Gallant (GEERG.ca)
COSEWIC (Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada)
Shark, White | Carcharodon carcharias | Atlantic population
Last Examination and Change: April 2006 (New)
Canadian Occurrence: Atlantic Ocean
Status Criteria: A2b
Reason for Designation: The species is globally distributed in sub-tropical and temperate waters, but absent from cold polar waters; hence Atlantic and Pacific populations in Canada are isolated from each other and are considered separate designatable units. 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. Bycatch in the pelagic long line fishery is considered to be the primary cause of increased mortality.
Status History: Designated Endangered in April 2006.
Shark, White | Carcharodon carcharias | Pacific population
Status: Data Deficient
Last Examination and Change: April 2006 (New)
Canadian Occurrence: Pacific Ocean
Status Criteria: Not applicable
Reason for Designation: The species is globally distributed in sub-tropical and temperate waters, but absent from cold polar waters; hence Atlantic and Pacific populations in Canada are isolated from each other and are considered separate designatable units. 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 13 records over 43 years for the Pacific coast of Canada. No abundance trend information is available for Pacific Canadian waters, or for adjacent waters in the United States that would permit a status designation.
Status History: Species considered in April 2006 and placed in the Data Deficient category.
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