White Shark

White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias) as seen in our Oregon Coast exhibit.

This animal is not part of an Aquarium exhibit, but is rather a wild species that lives in the open sea and in Oregon coastal waters. It is included here as part of the Aquarium's broad mission to educate about the entirety of the Oregon coastline.

Few marine animals are as instantly recognizable as the White Shark. Measuring up to 21 feet (6.4 m) in length, they are one of the ocean’s largest fish. Their bodies are elongated with a pointed snout, a large dorsal fin and a crescent-shaped caudal fin. The underside of the shark is usually a light grey or white color, accounting for the fish’s common name.

Although the White Shark has long been considered a “man eater” among the public, human beings are not part of their natural diet which consists of seals, sea lions, porpoises, tuna, sturgeon, rays, sea turtles and other sharks.

Until recently, it was believed that the White Shark had no predators (excluding human begins). New studies indicate, however, that some Orcas (better known as Killer Whales) may actually hunt these sharks. An Orca family group (known as a pod) will usually specialize in hunting a particular type of prey – for example sea lions or fish – in order to keep from competing with other pods. It’s not clear if White Sharks are actually a preferred prey animal for shark-killing pods, or whether they are simply attacked and consumed when the opportunity presents itself.

Range and Habitat

White Sharks can be found all along the Pacific Coast from Alaska to the Gulf of California. They generally prefer open waters, but will venture into coastal areas to hunt for sea lions and large fish. Although the species has bitten and killed human beings (mistaking a swimmer or surfer for natural prey), such attacks are rare on the Oregon coast. Statistically, there is one shark bite in Oregon waters every twelve years.

Conservation Status

Threatened. Like many of the world’s sharks, the White Shark’s long-term survival is imperiled due to over-harvesting and prejudice against the species. White Shark body parts are highly prized by collectors and the jaws alone can fetch up to $50,000 each. In 2004, the United Nations declared the shark “threatened” and moved to enforce international prohibitions on killing them. They are protected under both U.S. and Oregon law.

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