If you're ever out in the open ocean and you see a hungry great white shark headed your way, you'd better hope that shark is a teenager. Younger great whites lack the jaw strength necessary to bite humans to death.
In research that sounds an awful lot like an excuse to make fun of some sharks, scientists discovered the jaws of teenage great whites just don't have what it takes to kill humans or other large mammals. Dr. Stephen Wroe explains:
"We were surprised that although the teeth and jaws of our sub-adult great white shark looked the part and the muscles were there to drive them, the jaws themselves just couldn't handle the stress associated with big bites on big prey."
Fellow researcher Toni Ferrara heaps on more indignity onto these surprisingly wimpy teenage sharks:
"It is hard to believe, but at this size great whites are basically just awkward teenagers that can't hunt large prey very effectively. It seems paradoxical that the iconic jaws of great white sharks - made infamous by the classic Steven Spielberg movie Jaws - are actually rather vulnerable when these sharks are young. Great white sharks are not born super-predators, they take years to become formidable hunters."
Anyone want to volunteer to explain to these sharks that their teenagers are a bunch of puny weaklings? I thought not. Besides, just because a teenage great white shark can't kill with its bites, that doesn't necessarily mean it won't try. Dr. Vic Peddemors explains:
"This study may also explain why many of the shark attacks off NSW are aborted after a single exploratory bite, as the great whites involved are usually juveniles that might sustain jaw injury if they persevered with the attack."
This research isn't all bad news for sharks, though. The scientists found that sharks have a unique jaw muscle arrangement quite unlike anything mammals have, which allows them to bite with significant force no matter how widely they have opened their mouths.