Inside the Jaws of the Great White Shark

posted: 04/11/12
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Jaws of a Great White
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Great white sharks are fearsome to behold — although some shark species grow to greater lengths, great whites are the largest predatory fish in modern waters. They also top the charts in both provoked and unprovoked attacks on humans. But if you have to be bitten by a shark, this one might not be such a bad choice.

It might sound crazy, but proportionally you're probably more likely to live through an encounter with a great white than with some of the other shark species in the sea. According to the International Shark Attack File, as of May 2009, great white sharks have been pegged with 244 unprovoked attacks, resulting in 65 fatalities. The next two runners-up were tiger sharks, with 88 unprovoked attacks and 27 deaths, and bull sharks, with 82 and 25, respectively.

These statistics seem to stack up in great whites' favor, but there are a few other factors to keep in mind. Great whites are very well known and easy for many people to identify — they could be catching the blame for other sharks' mistakes. Plus, there is the question of reporting. For example, many shark species commonly frequent the waters around developing countries, where authorities might not be notified in the event of an attack.

Great whites are notoriously hard to keep alive in captivity, and they're rather rare, so there is a lot scientists don't know about them. But there are still some theories on why these massive sharks are prone to sampling humans and spitting them out. One is that great whites need high levels of fats in their diet, and with that first bite they can decide if something is worth the trouble of eating (other sharks aren't always so picky). That's probably why animals like seals and sea lions are prime prey for great whites. If they've had a good year, these animals can be about 50 percent fat by volume, making them a much better great white meal than a human would be.

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