This Is Why You'll Probably Never See A Great White Shark At An Aquarium

You've been planning that memory-making family road trip and in the midst of binge-watching Sharknado 1-6 the brilliant thought occurs to you: Syfy channel originals are all very well and good, but wouldn't the kids get a kick out of seeing the real thing? Behind plexiglass, of course, or whatever it is aquariums use to keep them there and us here. There are lots of species of sharks out there — according to Smithsonian Ocean, over 500 — and while the Great White Shark gets most of the archetype business, it's not the fastest; that's the mako, which will hit 35 miles an hour, says National Geographic. But ever since Peter Benchley sold a whole bunch of copies of Jaws back in 1974, coupled with the resulting movie franchise — for many people, think shark, think Great White.

They are indeed most impressive creatures. They hit maximum growth at around age 9 or 10, growing up to 20 feet long, weighing well over three tons, and equipped with 50-ish teeth up to six inches in height, Oceana USA tells us. They're nomadic predators, and the bigger they are, the farther they roam, and the bigger the prey they'll consume. And therein lies the problem. Plenty of facilities have tried to keep a Great White alive in captivity. Taking one alive has its own challenges (and, honestly, nightmares), and the process often injures the creature. Once transported to the aquarium (or whatever), there's the issue of food and territory.

We kill more of them than they kill of us

Science Alert explains that the sharks' need for territory — sort of "swim free or die trying" — often leads the sharks to injure themselves, bumping up against the sides of their salt water pens. They quickly become stressed. Feeding them becomes a problem — the larger the shark, the more complicated its dietary requirements. When they're small they're satisfied with smaller fish (or even smaller sharks) but eventually they grow to consume mammals, like seals. (Well, yes, sometimes people, too, but as Reader's Digest points out, far more people kill sharks than the other way around.) They can become stressed and stop eating entirely. Their gill structure means they have to move constantly in order to draw water across their gills to obtain oxygen, per IFL Science.

There have been attempts — the Monterey Bay Aquarium managed to keep a small one alive for about six months, but finally released it into the wild after it started eating other sharks. As sharks will do.

And as for Peter Benchley — his novel about a Great White noshing on people sold something like 10 million copies, and he regretted writing it. In 2015 The Boston Globe quoted him this way: "What I now know, which wasn't known when I wrote Jaws, is that there is no such thing as a rogue shark which develops a taste for human flesh. No one appreciates how vulnerable they are to destruction.” He spent the rest of his life "advocating for oceanic conservation."