Great white sharks (Carcharodon carcharias) grow and reach sexual maturity at much slower rates than previously believed, according to a press release from NOAA Fisheries. A study completed in 2014 and published online last month in the journal of Marine & Freshwater Research used carbon-14 dating and vertebral band pair counts of 81 white shark specimens, collected in the western North Atlantic Ocean, to develop a growth curve for the species. According to the results, female white sharks reach sexual maturity at approximately 33 years of age, while males reach maturity at approximately 26 years. Additionally, the results of the study indicate that the life-span of white sharks could exceed 70 years, which places them among one of the longest living species of fish.
The latest findings on the growth rates and life-span of white sharks provides important information for conservation efforts of the species. Low reproduction rates coupled with slow growth and maturation rates could potentially put the species at greater risk for population decline, since losses in populations are not quickly replaced. Great white sharks are a protected species in U.S. waters and legally must be released live, if captured. However, individual white sharks are sometimes killed as a result of incidental by-catch from commercial fisheries, so it is important that these types of incidents be managed to protect the welfare of white shark populations, as a whole.
For more information, check out NOAA Northeast Fisheries Science Center press release,
and the Marine and Freshwater Research journal article,