While many of the 480 known species of sharks have become endangered throughout the world, particularly those hunted for their fins, great whites have been making a major comeback, particularly along the eastern seaboard of North America. In fact, the International Union for Conservation has now downgraded their status from endangered to “vulnerable.” The reason for the surge seems to be attributed to major conservation programs, including a federal law enacted in 1997 that bans hunting great whites, as well as an abundance of prey, such as the increasing gray seal colonies found off the coast of Massachusetts.
Made infamous by Steven Spielberg’s movie “Jaws” (which celebrated its 39th anniversary yesterday), great whites can grow to be anywhere from 21-feet to 26-feet long, and weigh approximately 7,328 lb. While they generally reach maturity around the age of 15, it is now believed that they can live as long as 70 years.
They are the top predators of the seas, with no natural predators save for orcas and humans. Yet, despite their reputation, encounters between people and the sharks are generally rare, with only about 106 (unprovoked) attacks reported in US waters since 1916. Only 13 of them were listed as “fatal,’ according to the University of Florida data bank. In fact, according to official records, there have only been a total of 1,085 shark attacks from by any species (44 of which were fatal) in the US between 1670-2012, with most occurring in waters off Florida, North Carolina and South Carolina, Hawaii, California, and Texas, although attacks have occurred in just about every coastal state. South Africa and Australia generally have the highest rate of shark-human attacks worldwide.
Not all of these have involved great whites, however. Although several species have been known to attack humans when provoked, only three types (great whites, tiger sharks and bull sharks) are considered major threats to people. Still, 4 additional species including shortfin makos, hammerheads, Galapagos, gray reefsharks, blacktip reef sharks, lemon, silky, and blue sharks have (on rare occasions) been the cause of human fatalities without first being provoked.