How can you tell a great white shark is about to attack? It’s in their eyes, experts say

Great white sharks roll their eyes just before they attack their prey, experts say. It’s a...
Great white sharks roll their eyes just before they attack their prey, experts say. It’s a protective measure.(OCEARCH PHOTO | OCEARCH PHOTO)
Published: Feb. 4, 2021 at 2:40 PM EST
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(Charlotte Observer) - Great white sharks have a creepy way of warning they’re about to attack — but it may come a little too late for anything, or anyone, close enough to see it.

“They have the ability to roll their eye back when they encounter prey, to protect their eyes,” Mikki McComb-Kobza, of the Ocean First Institute, reported Wednesday on Facebook.

“You can imagine as an apex predator, eyes are paramount and so if they are attacking seals they want to protect their eyes.”

A video showing this transformation was posted on Facebook Sunday by OCEARCH, a marine research agency that traps, tags and releases great white sharks off the East Coast. In the video, researchers are shown trying to get bacteria swabs from a shark’s black eyes. The shark then rolls its eyes into the back of its head so they aren’t touched.

Among the shark misconceptions McComb-Kobza also addresses in the video is a popular myth that they’re practically blind.

Sharks not only have great vision, but they see well in dim lighting, she says, “and it’s thought many of them have the ability to process color.”

“The story of shark eyes is a story of tremendous diversity,” McComb-Kobza says. “To look into the eye of a shark is to really look back in time at all of the amazing adaptations that really benefit that shark in its current state.”

Great white sharks are known to grow up to 20 feet in length and weigh 2.5 tons or more, National Geographic reports.

To date, the largest shark tagged in the Northwest Atlantic by OCEARCH was 17.2 feet and 3,541 pounds, McClatchy News reported in October. The female shark was caught off Nova Scotia and is believed to be more than 50 years old, OCEARCH said.

As for the likelihood of a shark attack involving humans, the numbers were down last year, experts say.

The International Shark Attack File, compiled by The Florida Museum of Natural History, reports there were “57 confirmed unprovoked cases” of attacks on humans in 2020, down from an average of 80 annually over the past five years. “There were 13 shark related fatalities this year, 10 of which were confirmed to be unprovoked,” the file reports.

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