White shark (Carcharodon carcharias) COSEWIC assessment and status report: chapter 3

Species Information

Name and classification

The (great) white shark (Carcharodon carcharias (Linnaeus, 1758)) is the only living species of this genus. Over the years there have been proposals to name separate regional populations, but to date morphometry, meristics, colouration and skeletal anatomy from different ‘centres of abundance’ are not recognizably separable. The accepted French name for white shark is ‘grand requin blanc’.

Morphological description

The following description is taken primarily from Compagno (2001). The snout is bluntly conical (Figure 1a). The interior teeth are enlarged and the anterior, intermediate and lateral teeth are compressed and form a continuous cutting edge. The intermediate teeth are enlarged and are over two-thirds the height of adjacent anteriors. The total tooth count is 44 to 52.

Figure 1. Field characters useful for identifying the white shark (Carcharodon carcharias), A. Lateral view, B. detail of upper and lower anterior teeth. Diagrams by R. Aidan Martin.

Figure 1. Field characters useful for identifying the white shark (Carcharodon carcharias), A. Lateral view, B. detail of upper and lower anterior teeth. Diagrams by R. Aidan Martin.

The body is usually stout with the dorsal fin origin usually over the pectoral inner margins. The origin of the anal fin is under or slightly posterior to second dorsal fin insertion. The total vertebral count is between 170 and 187 with total length of adults between 3.8-6 m and possibly longer. Typically there is a black axillary spot at the insertion point of the pectoral fin; and the pectoral fin tips are usually abruptly black on their ventral surfaces.

Field Marks: Heavy spindle-shaped body with a moderately long conical snout. The teeth are large, flat, and triangular with blade-like serrations. The gill slits are long. The first dorsal fin is large with a dark, free rear tip; the second dorsal is minute; and the caudal fin is large and crescentric.

The dorsal surface is a grey or brownish-grey to blackish above and the ventral surface of body is white. The margin between the dark dorsal and white ventral surfaces is sharply delimited. The iris of the eye is conspicuously black.

Genetic description

There has been no genetic, tagging, or other population work conducted on white sharks in Canadian waters. Satellite tracking information from other jurisdictions suggests this species is highly migratory (Pardini et al. 2001, Boustany et al. 2002–see Dispersal and Migration for detailed description). Population structuring between hemispheres and oceans basins has not been investigated. Genetic structure within Canada’s Atlantic and Pacific populations does not likely exist, but has not been investigated.

Designatable units

White sharks in Canada’s Atlantic and Pacific oceans occupy two distinct biogeographic units with no interchange through the Arctic, and likely limited interchange between ocean basins from dispersal around the southern tip of South America. For the purpose of this report, Canada’s Atlantic and Pacific populations are treated as two separate designatable units.

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