A White Shark by Any Other Name

Despite their sometimes jaw-breaking appearance, scientific names actually simplify matters by allowing biologists from any country to exchange information with biologists in any other with a minimum of confusion. For example, the White Shark is a wide-ranging animal, inhabiting the waters off many countries. The White Shark is also an infamous animal, so it often has names even in countries where it does not occur. In each of these countries, the White Shark has one or more vernacular names. Consider the following (far from comprehensive) list:

Algeria: kalb bahr

Australia: Great White Shark, white pointer, white death, tommy shark

Canada: Great White Shark, mangeur d'homme, grand requin blanc

Croatia: pas ljudozder

Denmark: blå haj, store hvide haj, menneskehaj

France: grand requin blanc, requin blanc, requin mangeur d'homme, lamie, carcharodonte

Germany: menschenhai, weisshai

Greece: skylópsaro sbríllios, carcharos

Italy: pescecane, grande squalo bianco, squalo bianco, mangia alice & damiano (Naples), tunnu palamitu di funnu (Catania), pici bistinu (Messina)

Japan: hôjiro, hohojirozame

Malta: kelb il-bahar, kelb-il-bahar abjad, silfjun, huta tax-xmara

Morocco: kalb bahr

Netherlands: mensen haai, witte haai

Portugal: tubarão de São Tomé, tubarãos branco, tibarão-come-homens

Russia: geldevaja akula

South Africa: Great White Shark, blue pointer, tommy shark, uptail, witdoodshaai

Spain: jaquetón blanco, jaquetón, tiburon blanco, devorador de hombres, tauró blanc (Catalunya), salroig (Majorca), marraco (Barcelona), sarda (Canaries)

Sweden: stora, vita hajen

Tunisia: kalb bahr

Turkey: karkarias

United States: Great White Shark, maneater

Yugoslavia: pas modrulj, pas liudozder

But in scientific circles, the White Shark's formal name appears exactly as you see it here: Carcharodon carcharias. By using this name, a biologist in Russia can correspond with biologists in Japan, France, and Australia and - regardless of what other linguistic hurdles that might be encountered - can be absolutely certain they are all discussing the same animal.


ReefQuest Centre for Shark Research
Text and illustrations © R. Aidan Martin
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