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Animals Up-Close

Encounters with the animals that call Mystic Aquarium home

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Philip Thurston

Conservation

Exploring Great White Sharks: Fact vs. Fiction

July 5, 2024

Great white sharks have long captured our imaginations as fearsome predators of the deep. Yet, beyond their cinematic portrayals as relentless 'man-eating monsters,' the reality of these apex predators is often misunderstood. Contrary to popular belief, their encounters with humans are rare. In this exploration, we dive into some of the truths and myths surrounding great white sharks, from their place in the ocean's ecosystem to their remarkable sensory abilities. Join us as we uncover the facts behind these iconic creatures and separate myth from reality.

FACT or FICTION? Great white sharks are 'man-eating monsters.'

FICTION: Great white sharks seem scarier in our minds than they are in real life. Despite their fierce reputation, they are responsible for only five to ten attacks per year on average. You’re more likely to be killed by mosquitoes, dogs, cows, or even ladders than by a shark.

FACT or FICTION? White sharks have no predators.

FICTION: While great white sharks are top predators, they do have threats. Larger sharks often prey on smaller ones, and orcas hunt sharks, including large species like blue sharks and white sharks. Humans are the biggest threat to sharks, with millions killed each year due to legal and illegal fishing.

FACT or FICTION? Sharks can smell blood from a mile away.

FICTION (mostly): The ability of sharks to smell blood depends on environmental factors like currents. They can’t smell blood from a mile away, but they can detect a single drop in an Olympic-sized swimming pool. Sharks have a highly sensitive sense of smell for finding food, detecting predators, locating mates, and sensing their environment.

FACT or FICTION? Great whites are the largest predatory fish in the world.

FACT: Great white sharks, reaching up to 20 feet in length and weighing over 2.5 tons, are the largest actively predatory fish. While whale sharks and basking sharks are bigger, they are filter feeders, not active predators like great whites.

FACT or FICTION? Great whites have the strongest bite of any animal.

FACT (maybe): The saltwater crocodile holds the record for the strongest measured bite at 3,689 pounds of force. However, a study suggests that the bite force of a great white shark could exceed 4,000 pounds. This hasn’t been measured in real life, so the title may still belong to the saltwater crocodile.