What's So 'Great' About the Great White Shark?

There's something very special about the Great White Shark. Over 465 species of sharks are known to Science. Each and every one of them is fascinating in its own way. Yet in the public's imagination, one shark species looms larger than all the others combined. The Great White is a veritable 'superstar' among sharks. It has come to represent the very epitome of sharkiness and is the hands-down favorite of virtually every shark enthusiast.

What makes the White Shark "Great"? I think it comes down to a combination of four qualities. 

First, it is a very large animal, growing to more than 20 feet (6 metres) in length and 2.5 tons (2.3 tonnes) in mass. We humans are intrinsically awed by sheer size and a full-grown Great White is certainly an impressive animal. 

Second, the Great White is dangerous, having killed or injured more people than any other shark species. We are strangely yet powerfully drawn to things that frighten us, as though we cannot resist getting close to things that can harm us. 

Third, it is a particularly 'pretty' shark - featuring prominent dark eyes, an appealing clown-like grin, clean and elegant lines, and striking contrast between the dark upper and white lower coloration. It also moves with a smooth, hypnotic grace that many of us admire and even envy. 

And fourth, the Great White is mysterious, going about its secret life in an alien, liquid universe our senses can barely penetrate. 

Any one of these qualities is sufficient to make a creature to stand out in our awareness. But the highly unusual combination of all four of them renders the Great White Shark so fascinating as to be almost irresistible.



ReefQuest Centre for Shark Research
Text and illustrations R. Aidan Martin
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