What Sharks Eat

what do sharks eat

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

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 SpeciesPrimary PreySecondary PreyHunting StrategyTooth/Jaw Adaptations
Great whiteSeals, sea lionsFish, cetaceans, seabirdsAmbush from belowSerrated triangular teeth for cutting
Tiger sharkSea turtles, fishBirds, mammals, crustaceansScavenging, ambushSerrated teeth cut through shells
MakoTuna, mackerel, swordfishMarlin, smaller sharksHigh-speed pursuitPointed teeth grip slippery prey
Bull sharkMarine and freshwater fishMammals, elasmobranchsStalking, ambushPowerful jaws and serrated teeth
Nurse sharkCrustaceans, fishMollusks, seabirdsSucking in preySmall 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.

Geographic Variation

  • 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?

Sharks do not have a true stomach and esophagus like other vertebrates, so they do not have a feeling of “fullness” after eating. They will continue hunting and eating prey as available and digest food slowly.

How often do sharks eat?

Sharks may eat only a few large meals per week. Smaller shark species need to eat more frequently, while large sharks like the great white can survive weeks between major feeds.

Do sharks chew their food?

No, sharks do not chew their food. They use their serrated, pointed, or flat teeth to grasp prey and then twist and tear off chunks of flesh to swallow whole.

Which shark has the strongest bite?

The great white shark has the most powerful recorded bite force at over 4,000 psi (pounds per square inch).

What food do sharks like the most?

Sharks are opportunistic feeders rather than picky eaters. They will consume whatever prey is abundantly available. But energy-rich fatty fish and blubbery marine mammals provide the most nutritional value.

Are sharks attracted to period blood?

There is no evidence sharks can detect or are attracted specifically to human menstrual blood. They do detect blood and bodily fluids from prey using their keen senses though.


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.

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Steve Momot

Steve Momot

Steve is an accomplished professional photographer and marketer who specializes in the Fishing, Yacht, and Boating industry. With a strong presence as an influencer and marketing expert in the Marine Industry, he has made a significant impact in the field. Additionally, Steve is the original creator and co-founder of Sportfishtrader. Prior to his career as a marine photographer, he gained extensive experience as a licensed boat and car dealer in South Florida.

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