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  The white shark, also known as "great white", and "white pointer", is believed to have received its name from the appearance of dead specimens lying on deck, ventral side up with stark white underbelly revealed. The white shark is a macropredator, known to be active during the daytime. Its most important prey items are marine mammals (including, seals, sea lions, elephant seals, dolphins) and fishes (including other sharks and rays). Marine reptiles are sporadically ingested, mostly sea turtles. Marine birds and sea otters are almost exclusively rejected as prey. These animals are commonly found having suffered injuries from encounters with white sharks, but are rarely ingested.

The white shark was not always known as Carcharodon carcharias. Since 1758, when it was named Squalus carcharias, this species has been afforded a variety of scientific names, including Carcharias lamnia Rafinesque 1810, Carcharias verus Cloquet 1817, Carcharodon smithii Bonaparte 1838, Carcharodon rondeletii Müller & Henle 1839, Carcharias atwoodi Storer 1848, Carcharias maso Morris 1898, and Carcharodon albimors Whitley 1939. The genus name Carcharodon is derived from the Greek "karcharos" = sharpen and "odous" = teeth. The species name carcharias, also translated from Greek, means point or type of shark, leading to its common name in Australia of the white pointer.

  The white shark is cosmopolitan but occurs mostly in temperate seas, with large individuals known to penetrate tropical waters. It makes sporadic movements to cold, boreal waters and has been recorded off Alaskan and Canadian coasts. It occurs in the western Atlantic from Newfoundland to Florida, the northern Gulf of Mexico, the Bahamas and Cuba as well from Brazil to Argentina and in the eastern Atlantic from France to South Africa, including the Mediterranean. In the Indian Ocean, it occurs in the Red Sea, off South Africa and the Seychelles Islands, as well as Reunion and Mauritius. In the western Pacific, it ranges from Siberia to New Zealand and the Marshall Islands, off the Hawaiian Islands in the central Pacific and from Alaska to the Gulf of California and Panama to Chile in the eastern Pacific.

  The white shark is principally an epipelagic (living in the upper part of the water column) dweller of neritic (nearshore) waters. However, it ranges from the surfline to well offshore and from the surface and to depths over 250 m (775 ft). This shark commonly patrols small coastal archipelagos inhabited by pinnipeds (seal, sea lions and walruses), offshore reefs, banks and shoals and rocky headlands where deepwater lies close to shore. The white shark usually cruises in a purposeful manner, either just off the bottom or near the surface, but spends very little time at midwater depths.

  The maximum size attained by white sharks has been the target of many debates and spurious information. Scientists now suggest that the maximum total length of this species is about 680 cm (22.3 ft). Males mature at about 350 cm (10.5 ft) and females at about 450 cm (14 ft). White sharks are 120-150 cm (47-59 in) in length at birth. Studies have indicated that white sharks live at least 14 years. However, in reality, this number is likely much higher. Growth rates of the white shark are also largely unclear, although one recent study included a tagged specimen that had grown 69 cm (27 in) in a period of 2.6 yrs.