What Do Greenland Sharks Eat? Their Diet Explained

Written by AZ Animals Staff
Updated: November 20, 2021
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What Do Greenland Sharks Eat
Greenland sharks are opportunistic eaters that will eat fish, seabirds, seal, squid and more!

A-Z-Animals.com

Sharks are often discussed with fear and awe, but they’re just animals in the water. They’re complex creatures who do more than just swim around wanting to kill and generally it’s great white sharks people are wary of. In this article we’re going to dive deep into the diets of another large shark species. What do Greenland sharks really eat? And are people on their menu?

These “sleeper sharks” are the longest-living vertebrate animal in the world having been verified to live potentially beyond 400 years. Hopefully, it won’t become extinct since it’s currently on the “Near Threatened” list reported by the International Union for Conservation (IUCN).

Their short snout and small eyes, fins, and gill openings are deceptive in comparison to their huge size. Mainly gray or blackish-brown, they’re stealth predators and if not for their mass can blend in with their environment.

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What Do Greenland Sharks Eat?

What do Greenland sharks eat: Greenland Shark close-up
Greenland Shark close-up

Dotted Yeti/Shutterstock.com

You’ve probably seen a “suckerfish” on the side of a small aquarium sucking up any algae and other garbage. The North Atlantic Ocean Greenland shark has something in common with them… They’ll eat most any flesh, dead or alive, in the ocean. They’re not picky.

Having said that, you can relax. They do not stalk or eat humans. At least no incidences have been verified. Although they are predators, they aren’t aggressive. Primarily scavengers, Greenland sharks mostly eat:

  • Fish
    • Herring
    • Haddock
    • Cod
    • Arctic char
    • Rosefish
    • Lumpfish
    • Skates
    • Greenland halibut
    • And others (since they’re scavengers)
  • Squid
  • Seals
  • Other sharks
  • Eels
  • Seabirds
  • Parts of horses, reindeer, moose and polar bears have even been found in their digestive systems.

Greenland Sharks often gorge themselves when they do find a meal since they can go for long periods without food. They’re the slowest swimming fish, .76 mph, and have an extremely low metabolism which is probably connected to its ability to go longer stretches without food.

They are attracted to the smell of rotting meat as well as live prey. As the “junk-eaters” of the sea, their meat is full of pollutants and toxic to eat but is treated and eaten in Iceland as a delicacy.

Predators of Greenland Sharks

Although they’re fairly safe among other creatures, orcas and sperm whales are believed to feed on Greenland sharks since they have a significant amount of oil in their livers.

How Greenland Sharks Eat

What do Greenland Sharks Eat - Greenland Shark Underwater
A Greenland shark underwater

When Greenland sharks do attack, their jaws perform a rolling motion. Their upper teeth are thin and aren’t serrated but act as a clenching tool with its prey. The lower teeth are square and point in different directions making their captured food easy pickings.

Since their movement is painstakingly slow, albeit being capable of short bursts of speed, at about 1.6 miles per hour, Greenland sharks often eat sleeping prey. They have a large buccal cavity that sucks in fish which is probably why they’ve been found whole in their systems.   

Eaters-of-opportunity, they’ve been spotted alongside fishing boats in order to get their meals. Greenland sharks must be getting what they need in their diets since they can grow to be over 20-feet long and up to 2,200 lbs! One thing’s for sure, there’s no calorie counting among this species.

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