The great white shark or Carcharodon carcharias is the largest predatory shark, and until recently, was rare in the western North Atlantic. This apex predator is crucial in maintaining a healthy marine ecosystem, and after decades of declines, appears to be in a state of recovery. As the top of the food chain, white sharks help to control populations of species such as the growing aggregations of grey seals (Halichoerus grypus) found in this region.
The resurgence of white sharks in the western North Atlantic is likely due to conservation efforts such as federal protection established in 1997, as well as increased availability of prey, perhaps most notably the grey seal. The movie “Jaws” seemed to have a profound impact in the species decline in this region, potentiating a pervasive public reputation that white sharks are a mindless eating machines.
We now know, however, that white sharks are very careful and intelligent predators, and there is perhaps no better example than the white sharks found in the western North Atlantic. The sharks here are “wild” white sharks and very elusive - they almost always shy away from human interaction. As a result, they are very difficult to study, and do not respond to the usual methods to attract them such as chumming.
Since these sharks are wild and naive to humans and the region, the opportunity to study their predatory behavior in this unique context is yielding a wealth of new information, as well as challenging some presently held beliefs. For instance, some of the sharks demonstrating seal predatory behavior off Cape Cod are smaller than previously recognized as the accepted size range known to hunt seals. The data is revealing a careful, thoughtful apex predator, powerful and deadly when needed, but far in contrast to antiquated perceptions.