What Eats Sharks?

Written by Cindy Rasmussen
Published: January 2, 2022
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Sharks are known to be aggressive and scary, so what on earth would be crazy enough to take on a shark? Well, first there is the unfair advantage that humans have with our advanced weapons and tracking technologies, secondly a clever pack of killer whales is no match for a lone shark, and lastly sharks are predators of other sharks! Let’s dive deeper into the fascinating shark world to see what eats sharks.

How Many Species of Shark are there?

Dusky shark
There are more than 500 species of sharks.

There are more than 500 species of sharks. What makes a shark a shark? The common characteristics of sharks are that they have a skeleton made of cartilage vs bone which is what bony fish constitute. Rays and skates also have skeletons made of cartilage. One of the most familiar characteristics of sharks are their dorsal fin, just think of the infamous scene from Jaws with the approaching dorsal, you can hear the song playing now, right? But they also have pectoral fins, fins that are located on their sides, just behind their gills, these fins help them swim smoothly, similar to airplane wings.

Sharks are not covered in typical scales like fish but have denticles that are more like the material that teeth are made of. These tiny V-shaped scales help the sharks swim faster and remain quieter. Of all the shark species they range in size from the dwarf Lantern shark which can fit in your hand, to the whale shark which can be 60 feet long!

Do people eat sharks?

Sharks are not the most popular seafood, nothing compared to crab legs, lobster, or the most consumed tuna, but sharks are commercially fished and can be eaten. Yet, shark can be made into fillets and steaks and prepared similar to other fish like frying a shark steak in hot oil seasoned with salt and pepper.

One chef, Roberto Ramirez of Seafood Atlantic recommends soaking the shark meat in milk for 4-5 hours to “temper the strong fishy flavor.” He then likes to marinate it in garlic butter and coat it in a crust of parmesan cheese and Ritz crackers. Hungry yet? Other chefs will use shark meat as part of their “fish and chips” and it is used as an ingredient in Imitation Crab.

What sharks are the best to eat?

Biggest Shark: Thresher
Thresher sharks are a commonly eaten shark outside the United States.

According to Fortune Fish & Gourmet, “Mako sharks are the best of all sharks to eat.” They say that Mako meat is similar to swordfish and is low in fat and has a darker, moister flavor. Mako sharks can grow to be 12 feet long and can be found in oceans all over the world. Makos look intimidating with their large black eyes and they have a pointed snout above their jagged-tooth mouth. Their streamlined body can reach speeds of 45mph, some of the fastest in the sea.

Other sharks that are commercially fished for food are the blacktip shark and the thresher. Blacktip sharks are some of the smaller sharks with the average size around 5 feet long and as their name suggests, the tips of their fins are black in color. Blacktip sharks are used as fillets and steaks and other seafoods in the U.S., Mexico, India and the Mediterranean. There is a large population of blacktip sharks that can be found along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, so they are a common shark sighted by humans.

Thresher sharks have an unusually long tail fin and can jump completely out of the water, called breaching, leaping high into the air. They will do this while hunting other fish, squid, octopus and some seabirds. Thresher sharks are less commonly eaten in the U.S. but in other countries they are often eaten fresh, dried, smoked or frozen.

Do killer whales, kill sharks?

Yes! The great white shark has been thought of as the untouchable predator of the ocean, but in fact killer whales (or orcas) are actually quite skilled in attacking a great white. Orca’s hunt in packs, similar to wolves and have been known to work together in tactical ways to capture and attack their prey. They have been reported to circle a great white and attack from both sides essentially ripping the great shark apart.

A group of researchers from the Monterey Bay Aquarium reported that they found great white sharks would leave an area of the ocean if killer whales were present and they often would not return for months! They also looked at data from years between 2006 and 2013 comparing the number of seals (one of the sharks favorite food) to other years. During the years when they knew orcas were present, there were 62% fewer seals documented to be eaten by sharks during that time period.

So it suggests that when the orcas are present, the great whites will find a different area to hunt. The killer whales seem to be most interested in the shark livers which are high in calories. Scientist have found multiple shark carcasses left for dead, but missing their livers with orca teeth marks all over. That does sound like an intimidating way to die which might be why they get out of town when orcas are around.

Do big sharks eat little sharks?

Strongest animal bite – great white shark
Great whites and other large shark species will prey on smaller shark species.

Ramon Carretero/Shutterstock.com

You may remember from grade school a picture of a line of fish with their mouths wide open, depicting the food chain of bigger fish eating medium fish eating smaller fish. Well it is similar to sharks but more dependent on the available sharks in the area. Sharks are opportunistic feeders, meaning they will eat what is available, and sometimes that even includes cannibalism. The five largest shark species are the whale shark, basking shark, great white shark, tiger shark and Greenland shark.

The first two, whale and basking do have size going for them but they are not aggressive attackers. They are slow-swimming filter-feeders eating plankton and copepods. So they are not a threat to other sharks. Great whites definitely are! Great whites primarily hunt seals, sea lions, sea turtles, dolphins and small whales but they will also eat other smaller sharks and even smaller great whites.

Other sharks at the top of the food chain the feed on smaller sharks and sometimes each other are the hammerhead shark, tiger shark and bull shark. When we talk about smaller sharks it sometimes refers to shark species that are smaller, but more often it refers to juvenile or young sharks which are easier to catch. So yes, sharks do eat sharks!

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About the Author

I'm a Wildlife Conservation Author and Journalist, raising awareness and suggesting actions we can all do to help wildlife. As a former elementary school teacher I have a love for learning and teaching. My goal is to get kids fired-up about animals. Learning about the animals we share this earth with makes life better. When I am not writing I am living the good life with my husband and six kids (we are down to two that are still at home...and our giant labradoodle, Tango!).

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