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The Great White Shark

By: Virginia Wells

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It's time to give the great white shark a break. Thanks to the movie industry that has depicted great whites as man-eating machines, this magnificent animal may be the most frightening shark to all humans. But although the species is responsible for an average of two to three non-fatal attacks on swimmers, surfers, and divers each year, its role as a menace is greatly exaggerated. More people are killed in the United States each year by dogs than have been killed by sharks in the last hundred years.

Try looking at the great white with an open mind. They are truly amazing creatures. They have roamed the ocean for at least 400 million years and have earned their title of King of the Ocean. During this time they have changed little.

The upper teeth are large, broad and triangular, while the lower teeth are slightly more slender. All teeth are serrated. Like other sharks, the great white continually loses its teeth and replaces them with new ones. Their eyelids are fixed in their sockets, but they have excellent eyesight and can hear well enough to detect prey at great distances. Their sense of smell, which improves with hunger, is quite sharp. Even more prominent is their ability to detect other creatures' electronic fields.

Great whites are the strongest swimmers of all sharks and cruise at speeds of less than 1 mph. They are not man eaters, but they are meat eaters. Along the west coast, they feed on sea lions and seals. In the western north Atlantic they feed primarily on dead whales. Meals are infrequent and attacks consist of one massive bite taken from under or behind the chosen prey. Humans who have been bitten once generally can escape if they can make it into a boat or back to shore. Sharks usually lose interest after one bite.

As highly adapted predators, sharks play a key role in maintaining the balance in aquatic environments. However, some specialists believe they are endangered due to shrinking food sources and overfishing by trophy hunters. To remedy this situation, the U.S. Senate recently passed legislation to prohibit shark finning in all U.S. waters, and the state of California has placed the white shark on the protected species list, which means they are now legally protected from unlawful killing or exploitation.

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