Great white sharks

Common Name: Great White Sharks
Scientific Name: Carcharodon carcharias


Great white sharks, also commonly known as white pointers or white sharks, are found throughout the world in temperate and subtropical oceans, with a preference for cooler waters. This distribution includes the coastal waters of NSW.

Great white sharks are responsible for attacks on humans and have had a high media profile in recent years. However, scientific evidence suggests that their numbers and average size have declined over the last few decades. Their natural rarity, low natural mortality, low reproductive rate and other life history characteristics make their populations highly vulnerable to the impacts of fishing.

Great white sharks are now listed as a vulnerable species in NSW. There are heavy penalties for harming, possessing, buying or selling them, or for harming their habitat (see 'Legal Implications').


Great white sharks have a torpedo-shaped body, coloured grey to grey-brown on the upper surface and white below. They have large, serrated triangular teeth, very small second dorsal and anal fins, and a distinct keel before the broad crescentshaped tail. They are occasionally mistaken for the mako shark, but the mako's upper body is blue and they have long slender pointed teeth.

Great white sharks measure around 120-150 cm at birth and can grow to at least 6 m in length, although there are unconfirmed reports of individuals up to 7 m

Habitat and Ecology

  • Relatively little is known about the biology of great white sharks because of their rarity and the difficulties and dangers of studying large, live individuals.
  • Great white sharks are normally found in inshore waters around rocky reefs and islands, and often near seal colonies. They have been recorded at varying depths down to 1,200 m.
  • They may travel large distances in a relatively short time but can remain in the same area for weeks or even months.
  • As apex predators (at the top of the food chain), great white sharks play an important role in marine ecosystems.
  • Juveniles feed mainly on fish and adults mainly on other sharks, rays and marine mammals.
  • Great white sharks reach sexual maturity at around 10 years of age. They probably do not breed every year.
  • Females give birth to relatively few pups (between 4 and 10). They are fully developed and independent at birth, and measure around 120- 150 cm in length.

Why are great white sharks threatened?

  • The causes of decline in great white sharks in Australian waters include by-catch in a range of commercial fisheries.
  • Prior to protection they were targeted by gamefishers, and they are still occasionally caught by recreational anglers fishing for other species.
  • Another cause of mortality has been beach safety (shark) meshing.
  • Great white sharks have a very low potential for population recovery.

conservation and recovery actions

  • Maintain bans on taking great white sharks in NSW and commonwealth waters.
  • Manage fishing and beach safety (shark) meshing activities to mitigate impacts on the species.
  • Educate fishers on how to identify great white sharks and reduce the impacts of fishing activities.