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Great White Shark - Carcharodon carcharias

Great White Shark
Great White Shark - Carcharodon carcharias
At Monterey Aquarium, by Tom Clifton via Flickr

Carcharodon carcharias distmap
Great White Shark distribution


It is the largest predatory fish, growing to over 6 meters in length and over 2,200 kilograms in weight. The underside is white but the rest of the body is gray, ranging from dark to light gray. They are found in all cold temperate and tropical waters, between latitudes 60N and 60S. Its conservation status is classified as "Vulnerable" in the IUCN Red List.

The Bay Area has the dubious distinction of being close to the "Red Triangle" - which stretches from Bodega Bay to the Farallones to Monterey Bay. This area has recorded over half of the shark attacks on humans in California - not all of them are fatal. Most attacks have occurred between July and November. Seals and Sea Lions are the primary prey for adult sharks. Humans get attacked by mistake.

Scientists have been studying Great White Sharks around the Farallon Islands and Ano Nuevo State Park.

For more information about other local sharks see the Sharks page.

Shark Watching

Sighting a Great White Shark is mostly going to be a matter of being in the right place at the right time. There is slim chance you may glimpse a shark fin near the tip of Ano Nuevo island. You can improve your chances by going on a whale-watching trip to the Farallon Islands at the "right" time of year - July through November. The sharks come here to prey on Elephant Seals.

For the really dedicated shark-watcher who is willing to spend some serious money there are shark viewing trips organized by Incredible Adventures out of San Francisco. They take you to the Farallon Islands and arrange for diving in a cage (no diving experience required) once sharks are sighted. There is even a half-price option for people who want to just watch from the boat. Check out their web page.

Articles/Links about Great White Sharks

  • Detailed species page from Florida Museum of Natural History 
  • IUCN Red List Species page for Great White Shark 
  • What are great white sharks doing when they dive deep?, Earth Trekker by Deanna Conners, 29 Nov, 2012.Sharks may be visiting an open area of the Pacific Ocean known as the White Shark Scientists are trying to determine why. 
  • An estimate of White Sharks off Central California, Taylor Chapple, Sea Grant California project, 2006-2008. Sampling done at two major aggregation sites - the Farallon Islands off San Francisco and Tomales Point, near Bodega Bay. 
  • A Firsthand Account of Three White Sharks Scavenging a Whale Carcass by Tobey Curtis, Karl Menard, and Karl Laroche, October 2000. White Sharks feeding on a dead Humpback Whale at Point Reyes. 
  • Great white sharks swarm to area in summer, Peter Fimrite,, 15 September, 2010. Article includes recent shark attacks and a great map graphic showing distribution of Great White Sharks as they migrate between Hawaii and the Bay Area. 
  • The Monterey Bay Aquarium's Project White Shark, started in 2002, is helping research and exhibit white sharks caught off the California coast. 
  • Shark Tagging Project photos from Farallon Islands October/November 2011. The project is a collaboration between the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Hopkins Marine Station of Stanford University. 
  • A Monterey Bay Aquarium Employee Goes on a Mission to Tag White Sharks, by Chuck Saltsman, 30 Nov 2011 
  • Sharks under siege / Scientists, sport divers at Farallones disagree on how much human attention great whites can stand while feeding, sfgate, Glen Martin, 7 May 2001 
  • Study by the Pelagic Shark Research Foundation at Ano Nuevo, 1998-2003. Great details about methodology, lures, etc. 
  • Predatory Behavior of Pacific Coast White Sharks, Rick Martin, Shark Research Committee 


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