Great white sharks make for such wonderfully fearsome nightmares, those terrfiying tooth-rimmed maws opening into that most primeval of fears, being eaten alive. This apex predator feeds mainly on marine mammals – seals, sea lions, elephant seals, dolphins – and fish. The only real predator that faces the great white is another mammal. Humans.
For all we might think we know about the great white, Carcharodon carcharias, it turns out we don’t really know very much – the rest is beneath the surface, down there with myth, fear and assumption.
From an article in LiveScience,
“One of the most ambitious expeditions ever to tag great white sharks will set sail on July 30 off Cape Cod, Mass. The researchers hope to tag as many as 20 of the enormous sharks, about which very little is known.
The project is expected to be the largest shark-tagging mission in U.S. history, according to the nonprofit shark research group OCEARCH, which is leading the mission along with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI). The effort is part of an initiative to better understand the animals and to inform the public about the importance of sharks, which serve as top predators and are vital for the proper function of ocean food webs, said WHOI researcher Simon Thorrold. As many as 100 million sharks are killed per year due to both legal and illegal fishing, a recent study found.
“Given how much interest there is in great white sharks, we are still scientifically trying to find out the very basics,” Thorrold said.”
My closest encounter with a great white shark? As I’ve mentioned before, fishermen caught a great white off the California coast where I grew up – we viewed it, gazed down its dead gullet – then it was butchered and we ate it. It gave us shivers to think of what we were eating, and it was too bad that I don’t believe in any kind of magical transfer of powers gained from eating a powerful animal.
Peter Benchley, who wrote JAWS and thus authored a generation of shark fear, apparently repented of his nightmare tale even as it made him a fortune. He spent many years working for shark conservation, and is quoted as saying, “”[T]he shark in an updated Jaws could not be the villain; it would have to be written as the victim; for, worldwide, sharks are much more the oppressed than the oppressors.”
I hope this latest research project will go some way towards showing us a bit of what’s hidden under the surface.