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Ordinary reef, white sharks and walls of China - our new world without hyperbole


It turns out that Queensland’s decent barrier reef, that longish wall in China and white sharks aren’t all that great after all, writes Rebecca Levingston

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The Great White Shark is no more.

It’s no longer “Great”.

It’s now just the White Shark.

I don’t know why, but I was totally blindsided by the name change.

Somebody better call Greg Norman.

The reason I was name-checking sharks is because this week, a bloke called Clive went for a walk along a Sunshine Coast beach and spotted a shark rolling in the shallows. It was dead. Eventually it washed up onto the sand and early morning beachgoers admired the magnificent beast. Sandpaper skin, grey on top, white underbelly. You’ve seen Jaws.

Nobody knew what kind of shark it was, other than “a big one”.
Close to three metres long, according to Clive.

So we called Dr Daryl McPhee a shark expert, who told me that he thought it was a bull shark rather that a white shark. That’s when the conversation took a sharp turn.

“When you say white shark, you mean, a Great White Shark?” I inquired.

“They’re not great anymore, they’re just whites,” Daryl said.


“Yes, they got renamed about five years ago.”

“Are you serious?” I yelped.

“It’s just the white shark, yep,” said Daryl, deadpan.

“So the great white shark is no longer great – it’s just the white shark?” I couldn’t let it go.

Daryl sighed.

“Jump on the Queensland Government’s shark identification website, you’ll see that it’s just the white shark.”

Turns out Dr Daryl was right…

Scandalous! This is worse than when Pluto lost planet status.

Because there’s only one white shark – no shark is considered greater or lesser – prompting the name simplification. “Great” it turns out, is just common language that got adopted and has now been dropped by the shark experts of the world.

All Daryl and his peers really care about is the scientific name – carcharodon carcharias.

Names matter and Daryl would know. His other area of expertise extends to the echiuran or the spoon worm. Also know as the penis worm for rather obvious reasons.

Maybe we overused the word great?

You can’t just downgrade things without some fanfare (or whatever the opposite of that word is. Come to think of it, there is no word – just the sound of a balloon deflating.)

Can you imagine demoting the names of some of the other great things?

The Longish Wall of China.
The Decent Barrier Reef.
The Rather Large Dividing Range.

That bloke Gatsby – he was ok.

Back to the Great Outdoors…

I’ve now done a deep dive into the world of shark names and there are some doozies.
Sharpnose, bignose, hardnose – all real shark names.
Cat Shark, crocodile shark, pigeye shark – but wait there’s more.
Blind shark, nervous shark, graceful shark – I’m not kidding.
Milk shark, lemon shark – with chips please.
Smooth, silky, scalloped – still going.
Zebra shark, hound shark, weasel shark.

And get this, after my revelatory chat with Dr Daryl, the mystery shark on the beach turned out to be a tiger shark.

Unless you were a big fish swimming along the Queensland coast this week, in which case that shark was simply known as “lunch.”



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