The name “white shark” is believed to refer to the animal’s white underside. When great whites would occasionally wash up on shore, their undersides would be the most visible part, which is thought to have led to the common name.
There have been examples of all white great whites, but these rare animals are leucistic (lacking pigment) and often die quite young for a variety of reasons.
For a long time, great whites were thought to be related to the extinct mega-toothed shark Megalodon, due mostly to similarities in their teeth. However, it is now understood that they are more closely related to mako sharks, and developed their similar teeth independently of Megalodon.
Due to the success of the novel Jaws by Peter Benchley, as well as the 1975 film adaptation directed by Steven Spielberg, the great white developed a reputation as a man-eating monster. While the shark is responsible for some attacks on humans, these attacks are rare and humans are not considered a preferred prey species for the shark.
Great whites are sometimes deliberately killed in an effort to reduce shark attacks. This practice is criticized by environmentalists because it not only harms the ecosystems that rely on the shark as a top predator, but it also has not shown to be effective in reducing attacks on humans. Peter Benchley would later regret his role in popularizing the great white as a villain, devoting much of his later life to promoting shark conservation.