Are Great White Sharks Dangerous? (Explained)

The great white shark has been portrayed as a villainous creature in movies and global news reports. 

Even though sharks act with natural instincts for hunting prey, there is valid public fear over great white shark attacks in particular.

Great white sharks are considered dangerous causing the greatest number of attacks on humans as compared to other species. They are dangerous because of their strong desire as apex predators to find large prey sources. Sharks have powerful senses of touch, taste, and smell, in conjunction with swift and sudden attacks using their powerful jaws to capture prey.

Humans often can look like prey in nearshore waters. Sharks may attack humans to determine if they are suitable food. 

This article will continue on to explain more in detail how powerful (and dangerous) great white sharks are.

Dangerous Great White Shark Attacks: Where And How Many

Great white sharks (Carcharodon carcharias) are large fish found in temperate, coastal waters such as near the United States, Japan, Australia, and Africa. Sharks feed on the abundance of prey that live there. 

These are also coasts where people may be fishing, swimming, surfing, boating, and so on in these waters along with the shark’s prey. 

The great white shark is on record as having the highest number of unprovoked attacks on people.

In cases where this species can be clearly identified, there have been over 55 counts of fatal and over 295 non-fatal incidents found globally.

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Fatality rates from shark bites are about 7% in the United States, more than 20% in South Africa, and up to 60% in Australia. 

The majority of these attacks happen in nearshore, shallow waters where people are also spending recreational time.

Characteristics That Make Great White Sharks Dangerous

As apex predators, the need to feed is the shark’s primary driving force in attacks. Their powerful bodies and acute senses in the water make them experts in obtaining food.

Apex Predators

Great white sharks are apex predators, feeding on prey such as rays, fish, seals, sea lions, dolphins, penguins, small whales, and whale carcasses. 

They spend the majority of their time in the water searching for food. 

Sharks may be investigating a source through biting to see if it is desirable prey. Humans may also look like natural prey, such as sea lions or seals.

Attacks on humans may also result from poor or lacking sources of food in the water. 

Shark Anatomy: In Seeking And Capturing Prey

The design of the shark allows it to efficiently seek out prey in marine waters.

Body Shape And Size

Great white sharks are efficient and powerful hunters and tend to be more active during dawn and dusk. 

Their scale-covered, torpedo-shaped, muscular bodies powerfully navigate marine waters at speeds up to 35 miles per hour (mph)

The size of great white sharks can be up to 21 feet in length, weighing up to 5,000 pounds, making them large and strong contenders.

Lateral Organs

Like other fish, sharks have lateral line organs, called neuromasts

These are connected to hair-like structures that project out allowing them to feel vibrations in the water, helping them to locate prey. 


Sharks have sensitive ears capable of detecting vibrations in the water. 

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They also have an ear stone (otolith), which provides gravitational input to the position of their own body in the water, making them powerful navigators. 

Sounds travel 4 ½ times faster in water than on land, and sharks are drawn to low-frequency pulses, in the range of 25 Hertz (Hz) to 100 Hz as far as 820 feet away. 

These pulses also resemble the vibrations emitted by injured or sick prey.

Olfactory Bulb

Great white sharks have an acute sense of smell. 

They have the largest olfactory bulb as compared to other sharks, capable of detecting substances as small as 1 part per 10 billion parts of water

As the water passes over the snout and nostrils of the shark, it sends signals to the shark’s brain, alerting it to sources of prey.


The great white shark has two areas in the eye used for day vision and low-light or night vision. 

In clear water, a shark’s vision is about 10 times better than humans’ vision. 

Shapes like the bellies of other prey (such as seals or sea lions), splashing, and even shiny jewelry can catch the eye of the predatory shark.

Circulatory System

This species of shark has a circulatory system that distributes heat throughout its body, making it warmer than the surrounding water. 

This is referred to as regional endothermy, meaning that this particular species is warm-blooded or endothermic. 

This allows the shark to swim in colder waters that other species of sharks do not navigate, finding more sources of food.

Jaws: Teeth, Taste, And Bite Force

Great white sharks have sharp and pointed serrated teeth in their jaws. Paired with a powerful bite force of up to 10,000 newtons, these teeth can easily cut flesh and bone.  

Often sharks bite once to inflict injury and use their sense of taste (taste buds) to figure out what the prey is.

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If it is desirable prey, it will continue to attack and consume it, swallowing it whole or in chunks.

There is some evidence that shark teeth act as mechanosensory organs (like the sense of touch) to also assist the shark in determining what they are eating.

Attacking With Teeth

Sharks typically use the element of surprise to bite and retreat, waiting for prey to become weakened or die. This reduces the struggle for capturing prey.

Humans are not as fatty as marine mammals, lacking blubber. So if a shark attacks and bites a human once, it may leave the person alone due to the poor taste (especially if there are other food sources available). 

However, fatalities will occur to humans from a single shark bite due to blood loss or organ damage.

This video demonstrates the attack skills of great white sharks:

To Finish

Great white sharks pose danger to humans. They have caused the greatest number of fatal and non-fatal attacks on humans as compared to other species.  

Great white sharks are apex predators, continuously seeking food sources. They feed on larger prey such as seals, sea lions, and large fish.  

Humans can resemble large prey in nearshore waters. If a shark detects a human (or other prey) in the waters through their powerful senses of touch, taste, and smell, they inflict an initial single bite.

This bite is used to determine if the prey (or human) is a desirable food source. Biting is also done to weaken, injure, or kill the prey before swallowing it whole or in chunks.

James Ball

James has had a lifelong passion for animals and nature, tracing back to his childhood where he first began fostering intimate knowledge and connection with pet frogs and snakes. He has since honed this interest into a career as a trained Wildlife Biologist, specializing in Biogeography, sustainability and conservation. In addition to his professional pursuits, James maintains an active lifestyle, regularly indulging in outdoor activities such as hiking, and musical pursuits like playing piano and swimming.

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