White Shark (Atlantic Population)

Carcharodon carcharias

SARA Status

No Status
NS
Special Concern
SC
Threatened
TH
Endangered
EN
Extirpated
EX

SARA Status

  • No Status NS
  • Special Concern SC
  • Threatened TH
  • Endangered EN
  • Extirpated EX

COSEWIC Status

Not at Risk
NR
Special Concern
SC
Threatened
TH
Endangered
EN
Extirpated
EX

COSEWIC Status

  • Not at Risk NR
  • Special Concern SC
  • Threatened TH
  • Endangered EN
  • Extirpated EX

Description

The White Shark is known worldwide as a top predator and is renowned for its large size. In Atlantic Canada, the average length of recorded White Sharks is 4 metres, with sizes ranging from 2 to 6 metres. Some distinguishing features of the White Shark include:

  • pointed dorsal fin;
  • black eyes;
  • large size;
  • sharp colour contrast between its back (grey or black) and underside (white);
  • heavy spindle-shaped body;
  • long, cone-shaped snout; and,
  • large triangular blade-like teeth with serrations (like a saw).

White Sharks grow slowly and take a long time to reach maturity – 26 years for males and 33 years for females. They also produce few young and population growth is quite low. White Sharks are long-lived, potentially reaching over 70 years old.

Researchers agree that White Shark numbers in the Northwest Atlantic have declined substantially, with estimates ranging from 63% to 80%. During the last 20 years, their population seems to be increasing, potentially due to conservation measures that were implemented in the US and internationally in the 1990s and early 2000s.

Habitat

The White Shark is rare compared to other shark species, but is widely distributed in the sub-polar to tropical seas of both hemispheres. It is observed most frequently in inshore waters over the continental shelves of the Northwest Atlantic, Mediterranean Sea, southern Africa, southern Australia, New Zealand and the eastern North Pacific. White Sharks occur in inshore and offshore waters and at a variety of water depths, from just below the surface to depths greater than 1,100 metres.

White Sharks found in Atlantic Canadian waters are part of the larger Northwest Atlantic population, which ranges from Newfoundland to the Gulf of Mexico and the northern Caribbean Sea. Within this range, the highest concentrations are found in US waters. There are no estimates of population size in Canadian waters or in the Northwest Atlantic.

In Atlantic Canadian waters, there are 57 confirmed White Shark sightings from the 1800s to 2018 and over 30 detections of tagged White Sharks. In recent years, the number of White Shark sightings has increased, with 22 confirmed sightings between 2009 and 2018. Satellite and acoustic tags have recorded White Sharks in several areas throughout eastern Canadian waters including the St. Lawrence Estuary, the Grand Banks, and the Bay of Fundy.

Threats

Humans pose the greatest threat to White Sharks. Although they are protected in some countries and listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), in some places they are still targeted in commercial and recreational fisheries. They are harvested for their valuable body parts, including fins for consumption and teeth and jaws for jewelry and collectibles. White Sharks must swim to breathe, making them particularly susceptible to mortality when accidentally caught in fishing gear that restricts their ability to swim (e.g. gillnets).

At present, the only documented threat to White Sharks in Atlantic Canada is bycatch in commercial fisheries. There have been approximately 3 mortalities per decade since the 1950s in a variety of gear types. Other potential threats that are not well understood include pollution, underwater noise, and offshore and coastal development activities. In other countries, shark control programs, harassment, and ecotourism (e.g. shark cage diving) can pose threats.

Further information

DFO scientists are collaborating with the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries (MDMF) to deploy satellite tags on White Sharks, both in Cape Cod waters and in Atlantic Canada. Tagging data can provide information on migration and distribution throughout the Northwest Atlantic and on preferred habitat, including temperature and depth. The organization OCEARCH has also conducted several white shark tagging and sampling expeditions, including one off Nova Scotia in 2018.

DFO strongly encourages reporting of White Sharks in Atlantic Canadian waters to learn more about their distribution and to inform recovery activities. If you see a White Shark, please report as much information as possible, including the date and location of the observation and characteristics that help identify the species. If possible, a photo or video of the shark can provide valuable information to help with species identification and may help determine behaviour (e.g. feeding vs transiting).

White Sharks can be reported through the following mechanisms:

Information on the White Shark is also available on the Species at Risk Public Registry.

White Shark (Atlantic Population)

Photo credit: istockphoto.com/Chuck Babbitt

Scientific name: Carcharodon carcharias
Taxonomy: Fishes (marine)
SARA Status: Endangered
COSEWIC Status: Endangered
Region: Atlantic Ocean

Photo credit: istockphoto.com/Chuck Babbitt

Tooth from the lower jaw of a white shark

Did you know?

White Sharks are curious and sometimes approach and even poke their snouts at boats or other floating objects. They do not see humans as prey and attacks are very rare.

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