Great white sharks are some of the largest fish in the world. They dominate their environments as top predators. They also have a reputation for being terrifying killers that attack humans.
But even the largest and most frightening great white shark started out as a baby raised by a mother. How do great white sharks give birth?
Great white sharks do not lay eggs, but instead they keep and hatch their eggs inside their body. After the eggs hatch, then the mother gives birth to live young called pups. Some sharks do lay eggs, while others give birth to live young like humans do.
Sharks Have Three Ways Of Giving Birth
With over 500 species of sharks, there’s bound to be variations in appearance, habits, and reproduction. Sharks give birth in three different ways: oviparity, viviparity, and ovoviviparity.
This is the least common method of giving birth for sharks, but it still makes up about 30% of shark births. Oviparous sharks lay eggs outside of their body.
Similar to sting rays, these eggs have a watertight, leathery pouch. This pouch protects them from predators.
Sometimes these pouches wash onto the shore; they’re also known as “mermaid’s purses.” One species of shark, the bullhead, lays eggs in a unique corkscrew or spiral shape.
Viviparity is the process of giving birth to live young. Viviparous sharks form a placental connection with their mothers instead of forming inside of eggs.
Some viviparous sharks are blue sharks, bull sharks, and hammerhead sharks.
This method of birth is a form of viviparity, but it’s more like a midway point between full live birth and egg birth.
Ovoviviparous sharks produce eggs but don’t lay them. The eggs instead hatch inside of the mother after development.
The mother then gives birth to the live pups. Some species of shark don’t give birth right after hatching. Instead, the pups will remain in the uterus in order to feed off of any eggs that weren’t fertilized.
All members of the Squaliform order of sharks (which includes 137 species) are ovoviviparous.
Great White Sharks Keep Their Eggs Inside
The mating and reproductive habits of great white sharks still need further study. Much of what experts know about them are in reality theoretical.
But while certain parts of the reproductive cycle are still uncertain, it is clear how great white sharks develop in the womb.
Great white sharks belong to the ovoviviparous group of sharks. They do produce eggs, but they don’t lay them in the open like true oviparous animals.
The body of the female great white shark keeps the eggs in what’s known as a “brood chamber.” The gestation for these eggs may be longer than 12 months, though the exact period is unknown.
The eggs develop withing the body and then hatch inside the uterus. Then the mother gives birth to the live pups. After giving birth, the mother takes a sort of break for a year before mating again.
Great white litters are anywhere from 2-10 pups and may even be as large as 17. At birth, the sharks are between three and five feet (one to one and a half meters) long.
They have to fend for themselves, because there’s a chance the mother could see them as prey. Immediately after birth, the pups swim away from their mother and are on their own.
If they survive their initial juvenile period, great white sharks will reach maturity at between 10 and 15 years old.
They can grow to be over 13 feet (4 meters) long, and they’re known as one of the sharks species that are most aggressive towards humans.
Several species of shark exhibit intrauterine cannibalism. This is the eating of other eggs or sharks in the womb before birth.
There are two forms of intrauterine cannibalism. The first is “embryophagy,” in which the largest and strongest embryo absorbs or eats any smaller womb-mates.
The second form of intrauterine cannibalism is “oophagy.” This form of cannibalism is much more common than embryophagy.
“Oophagy” translates to “egg-eating.” The habit involves the shark embryos eating from a source of unfertilized eggs that the mother’s body provides.
Great white sharks exhibit oophagous behavior in the womb. They even swallow their own teeth once they develop.
This may provide them with extra calcium and minerals since their teeth are a replenishing resource. Great white shark’s teeth regrow through their entire lives.
Sharks have several different ways they give birth to their offspring. Great white sharks are part of a group of sharks that exhibit ovoviviparity. They produce eggs that develop inside of their bodies until they’re ready to hatch.
Once the eggs hatch inside the womb, the mother great white births the live offspring. So great white sharks don’t lay eggs out in the open, but they don’t have young that are immediately born into the world, either.