November 17, 2010
Written by Amos Nachoum
Great White Sharks – Nasty Predator?
My expeditions to encounter the Great White Shark tend to sell out fast. That’s what just happened to my last two October expeditions. My favorite spot in the world to see Great Whites is in Mexico’s Baja California. Luckily, I have another Mexico diving trip coming up. The trips sell out fast for a good reason. People are fascinated with Great Whites, even though these sharks have the undeserved reputation of being a nasty predator. They’ve got a lot of teeth, as many as 300. They’re big – 12 to 16 feet long, and they weigh a couple thousand pounds. Steven Spielberg gave a starring role to a Great White in Jaws, and that didn’t help their reputation as a ferocious man eater.
But the truth is they are one of the most fascinating animals you’ll ever encounter, and one of the most rare.
When young, they feed on small harbor seals and later go after sea lions, elephant seals and even small toothed whales. They like to ambush their prey from below – one big bite usually does the trick. They will also scavenge – eating the carcass of a whale shark. They will sometimes eat sea turtles and sea otters.
Let’s be fair, though. Scientists and others who study the Great White say that in the past 100 years more people have been killed by dogs than by Great White sharks. That’s not to say that they don’t look scary. They do, especially when you’re facing one close up. But that’s only part of what makes them so fascinating.
The Great White Shark: A Rare Species
There are only about 100 adult Great Whites in the state of California’s waters. Scientists say less than 3,500 Great Whites are left in the world’s oceans, making them rarer than tigers. They are long distance swimmers, capable of traveling 12,000 miles over a nine month period. A trip from California to Hawaii is a common trip for them. Scientists have tracked them swimming from South African to Australia and back in nine months’ time.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium has been capturing young white sharks, exhibiting them for a a short time, and then releasing them. The first time they did this, in 2004, the shark had almost a million visitors. The aquarium’s executive director Julie Packard said the shark was “the post powerful emissary for ocean conservation in our history.” The aquarium is also studying the adult Great White sharks to learn how to protect them from overfishing and the effects of bycatch – sharks that get caught in the nets of industrial fishing operations, get injured and can die because of it.
That’s what happened to one of the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s White sharks, a female. Captured on August 26, 2009 and released on November 4, the shark traveled more than 500 miles, from Monterey Bay to Baja California. There, she was accidentally caught in a gill net and died.
Baja California – One of the Best Dive Sites for Epic Shark Diving
There’s no doubt that Great White sharks are worthy of great respect. They’re found in the waters of Mexico, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. It’s true that are amazing dives to be enjoyed in all of those locations, but my favorite place to see them is in Baja California. The water is clear and warm and the shark encounters will always be your best memories of shark diving.