While filming for Discovery's Shark Week off the coast of South Neptune Island, Australian filmmaker Dave Riggs and his team were visited by a 4.2-metre great white shark. The large female was extremely curious and came in for a closer look, resulting in a photo that's generated some predictably hyped-up headlines. 

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Crew member Luke Thom snapped the viral shot from behind Riggs. Image: Luke Thom

The headlines seem to focus on the shark's "razor-sharp teeth" and their proximity to the filmmaker's hand, as well as the "blood still smeared" on the shark's face "after a fresh kill".

But for Riggs, this encounter was awe-inspiring rather than frightening, and he notes that the shark's behaviour wasn't aggressive at all. "Notice how the water isn't moving," he says. "The shark approached the camera with caution." 

As for the blood on the shark's face, the story here is also far less dramatic. In fact, it's very common to find scars and scratches on the snouts of great whites – largely because the animals they eat do not just roll over and die. Australian fur seals, for example, can reach a whopping 790 pounds (360kg), and boast sharp teeth and claws for defence. Landing a meal means the shark often takes a hit or two. That's why the blood you see in the photo is almost certainly that of the predator and not the prey.

"This photo is quite dramatic," admits Riggs. "But it really highlights how awesome these apex predators are. Great whites don't have hands, so she was researching the only way she knows how, which is with her mouth. I wanted to post [the photo] because it's real, but she wasn't being aggressive. She wasn't attempting to kill anyone." Not convinced? See for yourself:

Top header image: Ken Bondy/Flickr