What Do Greenland Sharks Eat? Their Diet Explained

Written by A-Z Animals Staff
Updated: September 27, 2022
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What Do Greenland Sharks Eat
Greenland sharks are opportunistic eaters that will eat fish, seabirds, seal, squid and more!

Key Points

  • Greenland sharks are drawn to decaying matter.
  • There have been no incidents of them attacking people.
  • They enjoy a varied range of foods including cod, haddock, seals, and even polar bears and moose.

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, they won’t become extinct since they are currently on the “Near Threatened” list reported by the International Union for Conservation (IUCN).

Their short snout and small eyes, fins, and gill openings contrast with their huge size. Mainly gray or blackish-brown, they’re stealth predators and if not for their mass would blend 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 their 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

Owing to their large size, these elusive sharks do not have many predators.

That said humans once constituted their biggest threat right up until the 1960s when they were hunted commercially. The main interest in them was their liver oil (large Greenland sharks can provide over 100 liters).

Today, they contine to be hunted although at greatly reduced rates compared to the past.

Sperm whales and orca are also believed to feed on these slow-moving sharks.

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.   

Opportunistic in nature, they’ve been spotted alongside fishing boats in search of a meal. 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 with this species.

Up Next…

Keep reading these posts for more incredible information about key animal facts.

  • What Do Nurse Sharks Eat? They have a feeding pattern that’s reminiscent of a vacuum cleaner sucking up particles. And occasionally they even get their prey to come over to them. Find out their favorite foods all covered here.
  • What Do Bull Sharks Eat? These marine predators love to help themselves to prey which surrounds them. Discover what they’re likely to go after.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/dottedhippo

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AZ Animals is a growing team of animals experts, researchers, farmers, conservationists, writers, editors, and -- of course -- pet owners who have come together to help you better understand the animal kingdom and how we interact.

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