The great white shark has long had a reputation as a fearsome 'man-eater' and is probably the most feared of all animals that live in the oceans.

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The Great White Shark and humans

Distant ancestors of great white sharks first appeared in the world's oceans well over 300 million years ago.

The great white shark is at the top of the oceanic food chains and has no natural enemies - apart from humans. Sharks are difficult animals to study; the great white is always on the move and it is impossible to keep in captivity. Also, because it is a top predator, it matures late and reproduces slowly, with the result that the overall population is small and scattered over a wide area.

There is no reliable population data for the great white shark, but scientists agree that their number are decreasing. Overfishing and getting accidentally caught in fishing nets are their two biggest threats. The species is classified as vulnerable—one step away from endangered—by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

Of the 100-plus annual shark attacks worldwide, a third to a half are attributed to great white sharks. Most of these, however, are not fatal. Research finds that great whites, which are naturally curious, often "sample bite" then release their human target. It's not a very comforting distinction if you are the one being bitten, but it does indicate that humans are not really on the great white's menu. Fatal attacks, experts say, are typically cases of mistaken identity: Swimmers and surfers can look a lot like the great white's favorite prey—seals—when seen from below.

 

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