What is the Largest Great White Shark Ever Recorded?

In Jaws, Quint notes that his monstrous prey is 25 feet long. Is this remotely realistic? Did Peter Benchley and Steven Spielberg lie to us?

Everybody has that moment when they realize they don’t know about something that they should probably know about. Whether it’s history, language, science, or cultural phenomena, you’ve felt the stinging personal embarrassment of a moment wherein you realize there’s some common knowledge that isn’t so common. Don’t feel bad; nobody knows everything. Nobody, that is, except me and my sidekick, The Internet!

Somewhere in the world, a confused soul begs the question…

What is the Largest Great White Shark Ever Recorded?

Maybe it’s just me but whenever I used to swim in the ocean (I haven’t been in years, for various shark-related reasons), I would always have that moment where I would picture just how large the shark from Jaws would be, if it swam up alongside me (in the film, Quint notes that the fish is 25 feet long). Following this thought, I would naturally freeze in panic. But I would always wonder.

Was my fear and imagination justified? Did Peter Benchley and Steven Spielberg lie to me? What’s the largest great white shark ever recorded?

Note: I specified “great white shark” because technically, the largest shark of any specific species would always be the whale shark which – though incredibly huge and cool-looking, with the spots – is a boring, filter-feeding sea cow whose record measurements aren’t nearly as interesting as the creature that inspired Jaws. So, yes: we’re looking for the largest predatory shark, which subsequently means the largest Great White.

Whenever delving into the information contained in a “largest [certain type of animal]” discussion, one needs to employ a healthy amount of skepticism. Think about it: if you caught a giant shark or crocodile, wouldn’t you exaggerate the actual measurements a little bit, to embellish the story for the story’s sake? Exactly. This sort of thing happens a lot.

Examples:

  • A Great White caught near Cuba in 1945 was said to measure in at 21 feet, 7000 pounds; there’s even a pretty terrifying picture of it with a bunch of folks from the village. Naturally, this sort of claim drew the attention of experts. Upon further inspection, researchers estimate that the giant Cuban shark was actually about 16 feet long.
  • A Great White caught off the coast of Malta in 1987 was said to measure in at 23 feet. Further studies, however, indicate that that measurement was exaggerated.

Conversely, when it comes to record-setting fish measurements, time can sometimes turn what was once a very scientific process into a tall tale (or, in this case, “a long tail”). Because fish are comprised mostly of water, extended time spent out of water post-mortem can lead to significant shrinkage. A fisherman may catch a Great White and measure it at 20 feet long but when the shark is brought to an official source for measurement a few days later, it may only measure 17 feet (this may have happened with the aforementioned Cuban and Maltese sharks, for all we know).

According to the Discovery Channel, the world’s largest accurately measured Great White was 20 feet long, caught off Prince Edward Island in Canada in 1988 (experts believe that 20 feet is probably the maximum size for a great white). Unfortunately for fishermen hoping to set records, most Great Whites measure between 13 and 16 feet (and under 3000 pounds).

Now you know.

Justin Brown is a writer and artist living in Virginia. He channels most of his mind's molten river of creativity into his blog Esteban Was Eaten!. For even more information about him, check out his website.

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  • http://indochino-review.blogspot.com/ Lorenz

    hi guys, I think in times where sharks are gravely endangered and we realize they play a vital role in the ocean’s ecosystems, you should not publish articles further deepening the wrong image of the “bad and dangerous” sharks. Would be nice if that was reflected in your article.

  • http://estebanwaseaten.tumblr.com/ Justin Brown

    I never referred to sharks as being “bad” in this article; I will concede that there is a passing implication that they are dangerous but that’s only because (follow me, here) most sharks ARE dangerous. They are very large predatory wild animals and they have attacked/will attack human beings.

    That being said, do not confuse “dangerous” with “malevolent”; these attacks are not the result of sharks being inherently villainous or just jerks who want to make us bleed (they’re neither) but because, as mentioned, they are predatory wild animals. If a shark is hungry, if you frighten a shark, if you disturb a shark, if you intrigue a shark… there is a good chance that shark might get a little closer and interact with you in a way that you may not find pleasant. Plus, you’re in their environment, which gives a shark an extremely pronounced advantage when it comes to interacting with you and that’s a pretty dangerous situation.

    Fear and respect the shark not because it is an evil monster but because it is a wild animal. I would also recommend the same “fear and respect” approach with bears or alligators or rhinoceroses. In fact, add “cars” to that list, too (if you choose to go wander in a parking lot, you need to understand that though nobody is TRYING to run you over, there’s a very real chance it may happen anyway and you should be very careful).

    This doesn’t mean I support people needlessly killing sharks, of course. They might be predatory animals but yes, they obviously play a vital role in the ocean’s ecosystems and deserve environmental protection as well as any other creature (I never implied otherwise in the article but whatever). Plus, sharks are way cool — “Shark Week” is one of the best weeks of the year.

    For the record: my aversion to swimming in the ocean is not exclusively because of sharks (they are like, #8 on the list of reasons why I prefer pools).

  • Lorenz

    Thanks for the response, you got the right attitude :) I’m just very aware of the topic now, as my girlfriend wrote her master thesis on the topic.

  • Matthew McKendrick

    That shark off P.E.I. was the shark my dad caught.. and he always claimed it was bigger then 20, but thats what they measured I guess.. The jaws are in a Miami mueseum

  • Buks

    I have seen a 17 meter Great White Shark!!In SA

  • Matt

    Buks I would if you are still there prove that you saw a 17 meter great white, ( note 17 meters is 51 feet the only shark in history that got that big was a Carcharadon Megalodon adults get between 50-60 feet but people say they can get even bigger) show me proof of what you saw and I will believe it.

  • http://www.opinionated-alchemist.com dominik mj

    Point is, that it would be not much less impressive, to be attacked by a 16 feet shark or a 25 feet shark… But then, the oceans are bit and if there was not one very big white shark seen before, it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist.

    And it is a bit misleading to talk about the Carcharadon Megalodon as this died out already before any records [and well it might died out, before any human appeared on this world]. And I am not disappointed that it died out – even sailing in medium sized boats would be not save anymore…

  • Ken

    News story today says some fishermen in Mexico hauled in a 20-footer, but only around 2000 pounds.

    Only.

    http://www.ibtimes.com/articles/330098/20120418/2-000-pound-shark-caught-coast-mexico.htm

  • http://www.facebook.com/MarkusVampyre Markus Negative

    Much of the movie JAWS was exaggerated, but if you remember, there are pictures in Quinn’s shop, along with all the skeleton teeth of sharks, and there’s a pic of a group of men (possibly 16) standing inside the teeth frame of a shark. Could this be from a shark larger than 20 ft?  

  • Dock Rat

    Frank Mundus is the basis for Quint.  He caught a 4,500 GW off Block Island that was easily 20ft.  www.fmundus.com

  • xtrmbrdr

    The picture you are referring to is probably that of an
    ancient Megalodon which is said to reach lengths of almost 100 ft, and the
    picture was taken using a model of the sharks jaw based on its tooth size, not
    an actual Megalodon.  With whites being
    caught in the 20 ft range every so often I have no problem believing the
    largest of this species is 30+ ft.

  • Monkin247

    BLOCK ISLAND IS A MECCA FOR GREAT WHITES!! i live out there and have seen two of them not far of the south side of the island a few miles out!

  • Paul

    I am not sure how accurate anyones records really are, I have a friend who’s a retired Submarine Captain who gave 31 years of his life to the Navy. When asked, he would tell me very little but did hint around that there are fish,etc. swimming around way beneath the surface in the middle of the ocean somewhere that defy all records, Great Whites are one of these species.

  • robbie

    love your blog, but we simply do not know what size a female GW can grow, max size I have seen is 17ft off gansbaai and that dwarfed our boat (our boat was 16ft). I reckon females get bigger in oz and the Americas. Over fishing means we simply do not know how large these beautiful creatures get.

  • Great White Farse

    Hey guys, I’m A shark and I just wanted to point out that I’m 45ft long (shark cock not included). So all you foxy fishes get at me. Shark out.