What sharks eat

Sharks. Powerful marine hunters often equated with fearsome jaws ripping flesh off their hapless prey. But is that all sharks eat? And specifically, are humans on their menu?

Truth is, sharks prey on different animals, depending on their species and environment, and can be loosely classified as follows:

Fast-moving hunters

Scalloped Hammerhead Shark

This group comprises many of the bigger sharks we are familiar with, such as the Great White Shark, Tiger Shark and Hammerhead Shark. These swift predators feed mainly on fish, squid, marine mammals such as seals and sea turtles, and even other sharks.

They typically have large, serrated teeth that allow for seizing and ripping flesh as well as for chewing hard exoskeletons, such as the shell of sea turtles.

Tooth of a Great White Shark. Image credit: Northeast Fisheries Science Center

Benthic hunters

Port Jackson shark
Port Jackson Shark

Bottom-dwelling (benthic) sharks like the Zebra Shark, Port Jackson Shark, Nurse Shark and Tasseled Wobbegong tend to be slow-swimming predators. They feed on a wide range of bottom-dwelling prey from crustaceans and molluscs to fish, squid and even octopus.

Being bottom-feeders, their mouths are located on the underside of their head. Most of them have pointed anterior teeth for grabbing prey. Some of these sharks, such as the Port Jackson Shark and Nurse Shark, have another set of flat molar-like posterior teeth for crushing and grinding the tough exoskeletons of crustaceans and molluscs.

Port Jackson Shark
Jaws of the Port Jackson Shark. Image source: Wikipedia

Filter Feeders

Whale Shark. Image credit: Sheraton Djibouti

Interestingly, some of the larger species of shark with the biggest mouths, like the Whale Shark and Basking Shark, feed on some of the smallest animals in the ocean – plankton. To do this, they swim forward with their mouths wide open, sieving plankton from the water. For this reason, their many rows of vestigial teeth play no role in feeding and hence look underdeveloped.

Not man-eaters

Great White Shark. Image credit: National Geographic

You’ll be glad to know that humans do not feature in the sharks’ natural diet. The majority of incidents involving humans and sharks tend to be cases of misidentification; sharks may mistake a human swimmer or diver for a similarly sized or shaped prey.

From 29 Sep – 29 Oct, come test your knowledge on sharks, corals and plastic pollution at Spooky Seas. There will also be storytelling sessions by the Sea Witch and Captain Spooks as they dispel common misconceptions about underwater creatures like sharks. Plus interactive dive presentations and your chance to DIY a reusable cotton bag.

Click here for details on Spooky Seas 2017!

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