The Record-setting Shark

With advanced tagging methods, scientists are now better able to follow the great white shark's movements. In 2004, scientists tracking a great white found that they might have a record holder on their hands: A great white shark swam from South Africa to Western Australia and back in just nine months [source: Carey­]. That's a one-way journey of 6,800 miles (10,944 kilometers)! Scientists think that this is one of the fastest long-distance speeds for a fish. They're still working out why she took the trip -- her food source was already ample in South Africa, and she wasn't mature enough to mate. While most migrating animals use the ocean floor to navigate, this shark primarily swam near the surface, perhaps to use the moon or the sun.

Great White Shark Habitat

The warm-blooded great white lives in fairly temperate waters, and only occasionally in tropical waters because such temperatures might cause the shark to overheat [source: Dingerkus]. The great white shark makes its home all over these waters, from the coastline to the farther offshore locations. They can be seen near the surface or near the bottom of the sea, as far deep as 820 feet (250 meters), but they're rarely seen in the middle of those two extremes [source: Martins, Knickle].

One key element to where the great white makes its home is the abundance of the pinniped; these sharks are usually located near pinniped hangouts, swimming near elephant seals along the California coast or cape fur seals in South Africa.

One place you won't find great white sharks is at your local aquarium, or any aquarium for that matter. While aquarium managers would likely cater to the great white's every need like the finest maitre d's, great whites are nearly impossible to keep in captivity. The Monterey Bay Aquarium was able to keep a juvenile great white for 198 days, breaking the previous record of just 16 days in captivity [source: Carey]. Aquariums have yet to figure out the combination of food, water and tank type that will accommodate the great white, and that assumes that the great white survives the shock of capture and transport. One great white in Australia had to be released because he kept slamming his head into his tank's walls [source: Stevens].

Many biologists want a great white shark in captivity so that we can learn more a­bout them as a species, and of course people want to look in the eyes of the shark that has captivated so many imaginations and eaten so many legs. That's o­ne reason why shark cage diving has become popular recently. People seem to think that if you can't get the sharks to come to you, then it might be time to go to the sharks.

Shark attack survivor Rodney Fox developed the first shark cage, and since then, many adventure seekers have shelled out hundreds of dollars to get an up close glimpse of a great white. As might be expected, this practice has sent up red flags for conservationists and scientists. For example, in order to attract sharks, some companies have sweetened the bait by using cow or pig blood. Scientists worry that these practices will affect the great white's feeding patterns in ways that could eventually pose dangers to humans. Rules that limit the amount of bait and the type of bait used have developed among the diving companies, and there have been no deaths associated with this practice. Still, sharks have gotten their heads stuck between the cage bars, which could potentially break the cage [source: Thomas].

Want to get even more up close and personal with the great white? Turn the page to read about mating and reproduction.