Deep Sea Battles: The World’s Largest Stingray vs. Great White Shark

vs. photo Heyn and JENG BO YUAN

Written by Crystal

Published: September 18, 2023

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When it comes to a face-off between the world’s largest stingray and great white shark, it might seem like an open-and-shut case in favor of the shark. After all, stingrays are generally considered docile and lacking in strength. However, don’t be too quick to write off the stingray just yet. The largest stingray species can reach lengths exceeding 20 feet, surpassing the typical size of most great white sharks, which hovers around 16 feet. Could a stingray really take on a great white and win? Read on to find out.

World’s Largest Stingray

Mekong giant freshwater stingray (Urogymnus polylepis)

Giant freshwater stingrays can weigh up to 1,300 pounds and grow over 10 feet long.

The world’s largest stingray species can weigh up to 1,300 pounds! The giant freshwater stingray (Himantura Chaophraya) lives in freshwater environments, such as the Mekong River. The largest one on record is 13 feet and weighs 661 pounds. This humongous specimen was briefly hauled from the river before being measured and released back into the wild.

What other type of stingray species grow to monstrous sizes? There are at least eight large stingray species you should know about. Take, for instance, the river stingray; this behemoth can reach up to 20 feet long. There’s also the eagle ray, which can grow to be 13 feet long. On the smaller side, there are six gill and butterfly rays, ranging from 3 to 5 feet.

More About Mekong River

Stingrays love warm tropical waters, but they can also be found in deep, cold ocean regions. The world’s largest stingrays have a range spanning from the Delta of the Mekong River in Cambodia to the Chao Phraya River basin in Thailand and the Malay Peninsula.

The Mekong River is the 12th longest river globally, spanning 2,703 miles and flowing through six countries: China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam, connecting diverse cultures and landscapes. It’s the second most biologically diverse river globally, after the Amazon River Basin. This river is home to Siamese crocodile, Sarus crane, and Irrawaddy river dolphin, as well as several giant fish species.

The section south of Stung Treng in northeastern Cambodia is a major breeding ground for stingrays. Recent giant stingray catches in this area have included four females of the giant freshwater stingray species, one of which weighed an astonishing 400 pounds, highlighting the extraordinary diversity and size of aquatic life in the Mekong River.

Great White Shark

Great white shark, Carcharodon carcharias

Great white sharks can weigh between 4,000 and 7,000 pounds.

Classified in the Lamnidae family, great whites are also the biggest predatory fish worldwide. How big do they get? On average, great whites can grow to be 16 feet long; there are even unconfirmed reports of sharks reaching 23 feet long. Adults weigh anywhere between 4,000 and 7,000 pounds.

Great white sharks have a big reputation but a rather secretive lifestyle. Named after their white bellies and serrated teeth, there’s still a lot left to learn about the biology and behaviors of these creatures. What we do know is that these partially warm-blooded sharks can regulate their internal body temperature.

Cold-Blooded and Migratory

Unlike most fishes that are cold-blooded, white sharks have a countercurrent exchanger. This specialized blood vessel is an adaptation allowing them to keep their body temperature warmer than the surrounding waters. It enables them to remain active in cold waters, which is advantageous when hunting fast, warm-blooded prey like seals, sea lions, and dolphins. They also feed on fish, other sharks, and squid.

Great white sharks get around. These highly migratory creatures take regular journeys between regions such as South Africa and Australasia, as well as between California and the Hawaiian Islands. They live in cold temperate and tropical waters spanning from 60°N latitude to 60°S latitude. They have resident populations off the coasts of countries such as the United States, Australia, and South Africa. They can store energy in their oil-rich livers, which helps them sustain long journeys and periods of fasting.

Round 1: Speed

Several stingrays among fish swim in the blue sea

The graceful movements of stingrays make them the focus of research for developing innovative submarine designs.

Round 1 compares the speeds of the world’s largest stingray vs. great white shark. Stingrays can go 30 mph, and great white sharks can swim 35 mph. It’s a close call, but round 1 is a tie between these two sea competitors.

Great Whites: Second Fastest Shark Species

Great white sharks are faster than seals, sea lions, and elephant seals. They’re the second fastest shark, with a speed of 25 mph. In short bursts, they can reach top speeds of 35 mph. Their torpedo-shaped bodies and strong tails are what make these sharks so fast. The muscly tail swings back and forth, stiffening mid-swing to pick up the pace.

Stingrays: Graceful Movements Inspire Submarines

Stingrays are like underwater birds. When they glide through the water, they “flap” their wings as they soar through the water. Their graceful movements are so fluid they might inspire a new line of submarines. Researchers from the University at Buffalo and Harvard University are studying stingray movements to design more agile and fuel-efficient unmanned underwater vehicles. These vehicles could be used for efficiently exploring the ocean depths, as well as for clean-up and rescue efforts. By studying differences in movement among various types of rays, researchers can begin identifying the underlying physics of stingray movement and apply them to future engineering applications.

Round 2: Hunting Skills

Great White Shark breaching the water

Great white sharks love slowly sneaking up on their prey from below before speeding up to make the kill.

Round 2 compares the stingray and great whites’ hunting skills. Stingrays are skilled hunters, but they’re outmatched in this animal battle. With their sensory skills, speed, and stealth, the great white shark wins round 2.

Stingrays: Love Snacking

Stingrays are peaceful carnivorous fish who love snacking. Rather than eating one big meal every now and then, stingrays prefer to eat several small meals throughout the day. Using strong electric fields and ambush hunting strategies, they find snails, lobsters, shrimp, crabs, invertebrates, and fish to snack on. Their strong jaws are also perfect for cracking mollusk shells. Once they find a meal, they can pull the prey into their mouths using a tenting technique. This is where they use suction to suck the food into their mouth.

Great Whites: Breach and Sneak

Speed and strength also make the great white shark a remarkable hunter. Usually coming out to hunt at dusk or dawn, these predators are famous for their breaching techniques. Breaching is where the great white launches its body out of the water to catch its prey. It’s the perfect strategy for catching fast swimmers like sea lions that can change direction at any speed.

While breaching is what great white sharks are famous for, it’s not their only strategy. After all, launching your body out of water takes a lot of energy. Great whites also slowly approach prey from underneath, waiting for the perfect moment to speed up and attack. Using their strong tail, they can quickly propel to speeds of 15 mph.

The great white shark also has a diverse array of sensory abilities, like their keen sense of smell. These predators can detect a single drop of blood in 100 liters of water, helping them locate injured or bleeding prey. They also have special jelly-filled canals in their head that can detect electrical signals, and they can hear prey up to a mile away.

Round 3: Teeth

Great white sharks are the ocean's apex predators.

Great white sharks have 300 or more serrated teeth that chomp down with a bite force of 4,000 PSI.

Round 3 compares each sea creature’s teeth. Stingrays and great white sharks both have teeth that they replace throughout their lifetimes. However, the shark’s serrated teeth are going to be much more helpful than the stingray’s flat ones. Round 3 goes to the great white shark.

Great Whites: Sharp Serrated Teeth

Great white sharks are famous for having over 300 serrated, triangular, razor-sharp teeth designed for piercing and tearing flesh. Their infamous teeth are always being replaced throughout their lives. They have rows of backup teeth in their jawline, just waiting to emerge.

Another toothy advantage the great white has over the stingray is its bite force. Great whites have a powerful bite force they can chomp down with. Sometimes, they even move their top and bottom jaw at the same time with a bite force of 4,000 PSI.

Stingrays have flexible jobs that allow them to chew in various directions, including side to side and back and forth. But they don’t have anywhere near the same biting power as a great white.

Stingrays: Flat Teeth

Stingrays also have teeth, but they’re more like denticles and less like traditional-looking teeth. Their flat teeth are composed of a pulpy center filled with blood vessels and nerves, surrounded by dentin and covered by a layer of hard enamel. The type of teeth in a stingray’s mouth can vary depending on its species and what they eat. Some stingrays use a mid-water filter-feeding method, while others target creatures found on the seafloor.

Who Wins?

vs. photo

The great white shark wins. And here’s why!

Stingrays have a couple of natural defenses; they can hide or use their barbed tail as a defense. But other than that, they don’t have a lot of recourse against a powerful great white shark. The moment the great white sets its sights on the stingray, it’ll be game over for our disc-shaped competitor.

What does a battle between a monster-sized stingray and a great white shark look like? Probably rather uneventful. Stingrays aren’t really the fighting type. These nighttime hunters like gliding and hiding. It’s common for a stingray to spend a lot of its time safely burrowing itself in the sand, leaving only their eyes and spiracles uncovered.

There are plenty of times that sharks and stingrays swim in the same waters, without any drama. Just check out this footage that captures a feeding frenzy. The sharks and stingrays swim and glide over each other without thinking twice about it. They’re both too busy gobbling up their tasty prey.

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About the Author

Crystal is a dedicated writer at A-Z Animals, focusing on topics related to mammals, insects, and travel. With over a decade of experience in the world of research and writing, she also fulfills the role of a skilled video and audio engineer. Residing in sunny Florida, alligators are Crystal's favorite animal.

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