We know they’ve got the appetite. We know they’ve got the teeth to back it up. And, we know the ocean provides them with a smorgasbord of menu items. But, if given their druthers, what do sharks eat? In this article, we’ll set the table—and you might be surprised by a few items on the platters.
Here’s a hint: It’s a bountiful spread. After all, there are 500+ species of sharks (depending on how you do your taxonomy), ranging in length from six inches to sixty feet. All are at least partially carnivorous and many are considered apex predators. So, naturally, they eat a very wide range of prey. In fact, there is hardly an animal in the ocean—including sharks themselves—that isn’t eaten by at least one member of the shark family.
Table of Contents
- The Venue – The Global Ocean
- The Menu – Nearly Everything
- Favorites and Specialties
- Garbage Disposals – Tiger Sharks
- What Do Different Species of Sharks Eat?
- Frequently Asked Questions
The Venue – The Global Ocean
Sharks live in all five of the world’s oceans—Atlantic, Pacific, Indian, Arctic, and Southern—collectively known as the global ocean. They inhabit shallow coastal waters, the open sea, and the ocean floor down to depths of around 6,500 feet. And, of course, they eat everywhere they roam.
Sharks eat an incredibly broad range of ocean foods—and, surprisingly, even some that do not reside in the ocean. Some shark species, like bonnetheads, have a preference for hard-shelled mollusks, whereas others, like tiger sharks, are opportunistic feeders that will eat almost anything they can get their teeth on.
Here’s the menu:
What Do Sharks Eat? Favorites and Specialties
Some sharks are known to favor certain prey, targeting sea animals many of their fellow sharks can’t. Here’s a list of foods certain species would likely choose from the menu first.
Garbage Disposals – Tiger Sharks
Tiger sharks are sometimes called the garbage bin of the ocean. Not only do they eat almost anything they can catch, including species from almost every category on the menu above, but they’ve also been found with a wide variety of actual garbage in their stomachs. The list includes tin cans, license plates, bottles, tires, coal, rags, nails, rubber boots, and more.
What Do Different Species of Sharks Eat?
While the charts above demonstrate the range of different things sharks eat as a collective, they do not convey the range that each species eats. Great whites may prefer seals and sea lions, for example, but at a young age will eat many different kinds of bony fish, rays, and crustaceans. As they age, they also eat tuna, mackerel, sea turtles, gulls, penguins, cormorants, other sharks, humpback whales, beaked whales, harbor dolphins, and porpoises.
Whale sharks—the oceans largest sharks—eat the ocean’s smallest creatures, plankton, which includes tiny copepods and their larva, shrimp, algae, arthropod larva, krill, protozoa, and many other floating microscopic tidbits. But whale sharks also vacuum up barnacles, squid, fish eggs, small baitfish, jellyfish, and mollusks, and a whole lot of seaweed.
Frequently Asked Questions
What eats sharks?
Big sharks eat small sharks. Small shark species and juvenile sharks can also fall prey to elephant seals, otters, and nile crocodiles. Additionally, orcas have been documented ripping the livers, hearts, and testes out of great white and whale sharks.
Do sharks taste their food?
Yes, sharks have small bumps in their mouths that contain numerous taste buds. So, they do taste their food and will reject it if it doesn’t meet their standards (which is why great whites are known to bite humans but not typically eat them).
Are sharks attracted to blood?
Sharks have a powerful sense of smell. They can smell human blood, but they do not seem to be particularly attracted to it, despite what movies might convey.
Do sharks eat humans?
Notice that humans are not on the menu above. Humans are not the natural prey of any shark species, though human limbs, along with almost everything else, have been found in the bellies of tiger sharks.
How many shark attacks are there on humans each year?
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