Species Spotlight: Great White Shark

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Shark, © Carson Ganci/Design Pics/Corbis

© Carson Ganci/Design Pics/Corbis
Nearly as long as a bus and weighing almost 2.5 tons, no fish is more fearsome or famous than the great white shark. From its torpedo-shaped body to its powerful jaws containing some 300 jagged teeth, the great white has evolved over millions of years into one of the ocean's top predators.

Dining on sea lions, seals and whales in cool waters throughout the world, great whites will occasionally strike at humans. These rare occurrences—an average of two to three non-fatal attacks in the United States each year—usually result from the shark confusing a surfer for a snack.

Researchers think that sharks bite boats, kayaks and sometimes people simply out of curiosity. Yet the great white can't shake its bad rap due to its lead role in the 1975 blockbuster movie Jaws.

In the real world, great white sharks have far more reason to fear humans. Researchers believe that the great white's celebrity status is leading to its exploitation. A set of jaws can fetch thousands of dollars on the world market, while sharks are also prized for their fins—a delicacy in some Asian soups.

Overfishing has taken a toll on the great white. But endangered species protection in key habitat along the U.S. West Coast, Australia and South Africa just might keep these ancient creatures from becoming history.

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