Most would agree that sharks are at the top of the food chain, especially the greatly feared great white shark. But sharks have not taken over the oceans, so there must be some checks and balances in nature that keep their species in check. So what animals eat great white sharks? What animals are not afraid to take on one of the fiercest sharks in the world? Let’s find out!
Why are Great White sharks so scary?
Besides the Hollywood version of great whites, why are they so scary? They really are at the top of the food chain (called an apex predator) and have very few predators.
Let’s start with the 300 razor-sharp serrated teeth. There are rows of these sharp teeth all angled inward a bit ready to bite and hold on. Great whites are also extremely large, with some growing to be 20 feet long and weighing between 1,500-4,000 lbs, some have been recorded at 5,000lbs. Stop for a second and think about a 20 foot long shark. For reference a queen size bed is only 6 ½ feet long, and an average master bedroom is only 16 feet long…now think about a shark so big it is going to crush your bed and not even fit in your bedroom (not that you would want them there!).
Are Great White Sharks aggressive?
Yes. Great White sharks are very aggressive animals and will attack other animals like seals, sea lions and dolphins, but they will also attack humans. In fact, there have been more shark attacks recorded from great whites than any other shark species. There have been 333 recorded great white attacks on humans leading to 52 fatalities.
You may be surprised to learn that Great White sharks are not the biggest shark in the sea. Whale sharks are much bigger with some getting to be 15 tons and over 40 feet long! That’s more than twice as big as great whites. They also have around 3,000 teeth! Sounds scarier than a Great White!
However, there is a huge difference between the two. Great white sharks are very aggressive and whale sharks are the complete opposite. Whale sharks are filter feeders and gracefully glide through the ocean, enjoying life, with their mouths wide open filtering out the nutrients from plankton. That’s very different than the great white!
What animals eat Great White sharks?
The list of animals that eat great sharks isn’t very large, however, they are hunted by one competing predator that’s proven quite adept at eating great whites:
- Killer Whales (Orcas)
- Other Great White Sharks
How do Killer Whales kill and eat Great White sharks?
Killer whales work together in packs to take them down! Orca whales are a little bigger than Great whites. They are 20-25 feet long and weigh 6,000 lbs all the way up to 10,000 lbs or more. Killer whales do not have as many teeth as a great white but their teeth are larger and sturdier with some being 3 inches long. They have one row of teeth on top and one row on the bottom with teeth that interlock. Orcas have 40-56 teeth in all but they don’t use them for chewing, they use them to grab and hold onto prey, ripping it into smaller chunks.
Killer whales that come across a great white have been observed circling it in a group and approaching it from the side to flip it over. When a shark is flipped over it puts them in what is called tonic immobility and they are unable to move or defend themselves. The killer whales held the shark in that position for 15 minutes and then took a huge bite out of its side to access the liver. Sharks have large livers that are full of nutrients and calories. Dead great white sharks have washed up on shore in South Africa, Australia and California. These carcasses had their livers missing and teeth marks on their skin indicating the work of killer whales.
Great whites are aware of this threat and scientists have found they’ll actually flee when killer whales are present. Scientists once recorded a group of 17 great whites hunting off an island off San Francisco that all fled for the season when killer whales entered the area
How do Great White sharks eat each other?
National Geographic had a show called Cannibal Sharks that showcases how sharks attack each other more often than we thought. Great whites with evidence of bites from other sharks can be seen in the wild and sharks are capable of killing one another. There is impressive footage of a shark-on-shark attack filmed by Adam Malski from Sydney, Australia in 2014. It shows one shark attacking another and taking an enormous bite out of its side! The main reason sharks kill each other is for food. They are just another source of prey. Larger sharks will prey on smaller sharks and often kill and eat them.
Do humans eat sharks? How do they kill them?
Humans are by far the number one threat to sharks. Researchers have found that humans kill an average of 100 million sharks a year! Most of this is through shark fishing, while some is from ship hits where medium to large ships crash into sharks and kill them. Whales are more often victims of ship hits, but it occurs to sharks, dolphins, and killer whales as well. For fishing, there are several fishing techniques including using giant purse seine nets and longlines. In the US sport fishing is popular, you can take a shark fishing tour off the coast of Florida and California.
The worst way to hunt sharks is called finning. This is a process of cutting off a shark’s fins and then releasing them back into the water to bleed out. Shark fins are used in shark fin soup which is a delicacy and status symbol in countries like China. The fins are also believed to have medicinal properties so fishermen are drawn to killing more sharks because it is so profitable. The scalloped hammerhead and smooth hammerhead are two species that are now endangered due to overfishing. Conservationists are fighting to change fishing regulations in an effort to save more sharks.