Great White Sharks are Great Scavengers

Great white sharks (Charcharodon carcharias) are one the ocean’s most formidable predators, but marine biologists still have a lot to learn about their behavior patterns and their role in marine food webs. Recent observations published by Chris Fallows from Apex Expeditions and researchers at the University of Miami (Dr. Neil hammerschlag and Austin Gallagher) are now adding very interesting details to what is known about white shark biology.

Observations of white sharks scavenging on whale carcasses over successive days provided evidence of strategic and selective feeding behaviors. The team was able to observe four separate scavenging events during the course of 10 days in False bay, South Africa that revealed unique social and aggregative behaviors. For example, the white sharks observed during this study exhibited a preference for scavenging parts of the whale carcasses with the thickest blubber. Also of note was that when a whale carcass was available for scavenging, the white sharks ceased predation on pinnipeds.

Furthermore, scavenging seems to play a role in the socialization of different age, size and possibly gendered white sharks. “While scavenging on the whale, the sharks clearly showed a size-based pecking order,” said Fallows. “The biggest sharks came right in, targeting areas of highest blubber content, while smaller sharks fed on areas with less blubber or kept their distance from the whale, mostly scavenging on pieces of blubber that drifted away from the carcass.”

“By attracting many large white sharks together to scavenge, we suspect that the appearance of a whale carcass can play a role in shaping the behaviors, movements, and the ecosystem impacts of white sharks” said Hammerschlag. “These patterns may shed some light into the ecology of this often studied – yet still highly enigmatic – marine predator.”

Who knew such a fierce predator could also rely on scavenging as a feeding behavior?

To read the original research article, click on the following citation: Fallows C, Gallagher AJ, Hammerschlag N (2013) White Sharks (Carcharodon carcharias) Scavenging on Whales and Its Potential Role in Further Shaping the Ecology of an Apex Predator. PLoS ONE 8(4): e60797. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0060797

The quotations in the above article are from a release by EurekaAlert!


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