What Are the Great White Shark Behavioral Adaptations?

Elias Levy/CC-BY 2.0

To survive, great white sharks have evolved several behavioral adaptations, including flexible activity patterns, migratory habits and social hierarchies. However, great white sharks are also intelligent hunters, and their most important adaptation is their use of different strategies for different prey. Great whites are not commonly kept in captivity; so many aspects of their behavior remain unknown, as it is difficult to study them in the wild.

Unlike some creatures that are only adapted for being active during the day or during the night, great white sharks hunt during both time periods. Nevertheless, great white sharks have strong vision in bright light, so scientists suspect that they hunt more during the day. Great whites hunt a wide variety of prey, including fish, mollusks, crustaceans, birds, smaller sharks, and – most importantly – marine mammals. For surface-dwelling birds, the great whites race towards the surface and grab the birds with their mouths, sometimes breaching the water in the process. When hunting large, surface-dwelling mammals, great whites often swim up underneath the intended prey and bite it before retreating to the depths. They then wait until the prey stops struggling or bleeds to death before returning to retrieve the food. They bring the food down to the bottom before consuming it.