As apex predators, sharks are equipped with evolutionary hunting adaptations that make them effective killers in the ocean. With over 500 shark species inhabiting diverse aquatic environments, what do sharks eat?
You might also enjoy reading “How do Sharks Hunt“.
- What Sharks Eat The Most
- Quotes on Shark Diets
- Unique Feeding Strategies
- Geographic Variation
- Diet by Location
- Threats to Shark Diets
- Do sharks ever get full?
- How often do sharks eat?
- Do sharks chew their food?
- Which shark has the strongest bite?
- What food do sharks like the most?
- Are sharks attracted to period blood?
What Sharks Eat The Most
Fish make up the majority of most shark species’ diets. Small bony fishes like sardines, herring, and anchovies are the most common prey. That being said, there is still some diversity between different species of sharks and what they eat. Below is a helpful table:
Shark Diet Table
|Shark Species||Primary Prey||Secondary Prey||Hunting Strategy||Tooth/Jaw Adaptations|
|Great white||Seals, sea lions||Fish, cetaceans, seabirds||Ambush from below||Serrated triangular teeth for cutting|
|Tiger shark||Sea turtles, fish||Birds, mammals, crustaceans||Scavenging, ambush||Serrated teeth cut through shells|
|Mako||Tuna, mackerel, swordfish||Marlin, smaller sharks||High-speed pursuit||Pointed teeth grip slippery prey|
|Bull shark||Marine and freshwater fish||Mammals, elasmobranchs||Stalking, ambush||Powerful jaws and serrated teeth|
|Nurse shark||Crustaceans, fish||Mollusks, seabirds||Sucking in prey||Small teeth crush and grind food|
- Great white sharks – These sharks are opportunistic predators that eat fish like tuna, rays, smaller sharks, seals, sea lions, dolphins, whales, seabirds, sea turtles, and even dead animals. They have also been known to attack humans on rare occasions. Great whites typically take large bites out of their prey and then retreat while it bleeds to death before returning to feed.
- Tiger sharks – Tiger sharks have extremely diverse diets. They eat sea turtles, seals, birds, smaller sharks, fish, squid, crabs, lobsters, jellyfish, sea snakes, rays, and even garbage or carrion. They have sharp teeth that are adapted for cutting rather than tearing.
- Bull sharks – Bull sharks eat bony fish, sharks, rays, dolphins, turtles, birds, crustaceans, squid, sea snakes, and even land mammals like dogs that venture into the water. They have a wide flat head and sharp triangular teeth.
- Hammerhead sharks – Hammerheads feed mainly on rays, smaller sharks, bony fish, lobsters, crabs, squid, octopus, and snails. Their unique hammer-shaped head may help them detect and pin down prey.
- Nurse sharks – Nurse sharks feed on crustaceans like shrimp, lobster, crabs, urchins, squid, octopus, fish, rays, and even seabirds. They have small sharp teeth that can crush shells and thick skin to protect them from prey that fights back.
- Reef sharks – Reef sharks are active predators in coral reefs. They prey on fish, octopus, squid, lobsters, crabs, sea snakes, sea birds, smaller sharks, rays, and eels. Some species also eat plankton, algae, or jellyfish.
Quotes on Shark Diets
“Shark feeding strategies have evolved over millions of years to help them survive in every ocean habitat from shallow reefs to the open sea. Their diverse diets reflect advanced sensory systems and adaptations for capturing everything from tiny plankton to large mammals.” – Dr. Greg Skomal, marine biologist
See Also: What Eats Sharks?
Unique Feeding Strategies
- Unique Feeding Behaviors
- Some bizarre shark species have developed highly peculiar hunting strategies and adaptations:
- Cookiecutter sharks use suction to attach their small bodies onto much larger prey like tuna, great whites, cetaceans, and the occasional human swimmer. They then rotate and bite down, using their circular saw-like teeth to carve out a cookie-shaped plug of flesh.
- Goblin sharks inhabit the deep sea where prey is scarce. Their highly protrusible jaws shoot forward to snatch unsuspecting fishes or squids.
- Thresher sharks use their elongated upper tail fin to slap, disorient, and corral schooling fishes into tight bait balls ripe for easy feeding.
- Megamouth sharks employ filter feeding to consume plankton and jellyfish, which they engulf through their large gaping mouths.
- Bull sharks in tropical reef environments like the Indo-Pacific eat more fish, octopus, and crustaceans compared to Atlantic populations that consume more mammals and elasmobranchs.
- Great whites off seal colonies eat mostly marine mammals. But around offshore islands, their diet is up to 90% fish, rays, and smaller sharks.
Diet by Location
- Coastal sharks – Sharks that live near the coasts of continents and islands eat everything from fish and seals to dolphins, seabirds, crustaceans, and even land animals. The diversity of prey depends on the location.
- Pelagic sharks – Pelagic sharks live in the open ocean. They feed on schooling fish like tuna, mackerel, herring, and even smaller sharks. Common prey includes squid, sea birds, marine mammals, and plankton.
- Deep sea sharks – In the deep ocean environment with little light and food sources, sharks have adapted to eat prey like squid, octopus, deep sea bony fish, other sharks, rays, and dead animals that sink to the bottom.
- Freshwater sharks – The few shark species adapted to live in rivers and lakes feed on fish, reptiles, birds, crustaceans, and mammals. The bull shark is a notable freshwater species found in the Amazon and rivers of Australia and Asia.
Threats to Shark Diets
Several human activities are negatively impacting shark feeding patterns:
- Overfishing – Depletion of food sources like tuna puts nutritional pressure on predatory sharks that rely on them. This can force sharks to migrate elsewhere.
- Coastal development – Destruction of wetlands and mangroves that serve as nurseries destroys crucial habitat for juvenile sharks to find food sources and grow.
- Pollution – Plastics and chemical contaminants introduced into the oceans can bioaccumulate up the food chain and may be ingested by sharks.
- Climate change – Ocean warming, acidification, and other changes disturb delicate food webs, displacing certain prey populations.
- Habitat degradation – Ecosystem damage decreases biodiversity and the availability of different food options for opportunistic sharks.
Do sharks ever get full?
How often do sharks eat?
Do sharks chew their food?
Which shark has the strongest bite?
What food do sharks like the most?
Are sharks attracted to period blood?
In summary, sharks are carnivorous predators that eat a wide variety of prey based on their species, habitat, and available food sources. Their jaws and teeth have evolved to capture swift moving fish, bite through turtle shells, cut through blubber, and filter tiny plankton. Understanding what sharks eat is key to conserving these important marine predators.