How Do Great White Sharks Mate?

February 14, 2024

The most famous shark of all – the great white – has been filmed in countless movies and television shows. They are often seen as terrifying apex predators, but there’s much more to these fish than meets the eye. Despite decades of research, animal scientists have never witnessed this shark mating, and the process remains a mystery.

OCEARCH is working to solve this puzzle with Expedition Carolinas and other research, including the collection of genetic data. This will help us understand why this population of sharks is growing and how it relates to other populations.

When a female shark is ready to mate, she gives off a chemical that alerts male sharks nearby. Once the male has her attention, he may show courtship behaviour by biting the female’s back, flanks or fins. This is how “mating scars” appear on shark bodies – but it isn’t the same as an attack and tends to be much gentler.

Male sharks have structures that resemble penises called claspers, which they use to impregnate females by inserting them into the cloaca. Unlike most sharks, which are oviparous (eggs are fertilized inside the body and the fertilized eggs are carried outside the uterus), great white sharks are viviparous and the fertilized eggs are retained in the cloaca for gestation. After mating, the male will likely leave and go hunting again, while the female may stay close to her nursery. This is why it is so rare to see a pregnant shark, as only very few females survive gestation and birth.


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