Great white hype
Submitted by: MCRD San Diego
Story Identification Number: 20031027162216
Story by Capt. Max Hopkins

MARINE CORPS RECRUIT DEPOT SAN DIEGO, Calif.(October 24, 2003) -- The movie "Jaws," left a lasting terrifying impression of the great white shark. Why would someone desire to willingly enter the water with this depicted man-eater?

Perhaps the answer to this question is one of curiosity and childhood fascination; to view a creation that is at least 400 million years old and has changed little in 30 million years. The great white shark is an apex predator which has two natural enemies besides mankind - a larger great white shark or a pod of killer whales. Considered by some to be a perfect and magnificent creature, this shark has evolved to eat, swim, and reproduce. People know little about the shark species. But to simply fear them because of their appearance and lack of understanding is to display dislike out of ignorance.

To understand this animal, people must understand the trials it faces once it is conceived and struggles to grow and live. Great white sharks begin their struggle for life before they are born. They are prone to oophagy, a condition in which developed embryos eat the remaining eggs in the womb. If the shark embryos survive, after they are born they face the threat of being eaten by their own mother. The young sharks must venture into the ocean to become part of the food chain.

Great whites first breed between the ages of 20 to 30 years. It is the belief of many researchers that this lapse in time and the sharks struggle to survive is by design and provides a balance in the ecology of the ocean by preventing too many great whites from roaming the ocean.

The biggest misconception of the great white is that it is a man-eater. The vicious killer depicted in Jaws could not be further from the truth. The great white does not seek humans as its prey. If one attacks, it is by mistaken identity. They mistake humans swimming, splashing, and frolicking at the surface as signs of an injured, maimed, or regularly preyed upon marine life. It is seldom that a great white will continue to devour a human after the initial bite because the shark will realize it has attacked in error.

The oceans are filled with more than 400 known species of sharks and new species continue to be discovered as technology and research allow man to delve into the depths of the ocean.

Each year, more than 100 million sharks are slaughtered for their fins, liver, and meat, but some are killed because they seem to pose a threat to humans. Over-fishing has placed many sharks on the endangered species list and this threatens the ecology of the ocean.

Many people fear sharks based on their lack of knowledge and the depictions played out on the silver screen, but scientific research strives to break these common misconceptions and bring about knowledge of sharks.

Capt. Max Hopkins, Depot protocol officer, gives the 'OK' from a shark cage as he prepares to swim with great whites near the Isla de Guadalupe. Photo by: Capt. Max Hopkins