Sharks are known to be some of the most intimidating predators in the ocean. But what happens when they face off with the biggest animals on earth?
Well, in this post we’re going to find out. Can sharks eat whales?
In a nutshell, yes, they can, and do. Some species of sharks are so powerful that they can take on a whale. For example, great white sharks have been known to attack and kill humpback whale calves.
Let’s get into it…
Do Sharks Eat Whales?
Sharks come in all shapes and sizes, but it’s only the most tactical and fierce that can take on an animal the size of a whale.
Sharks are opportunistic feeders, but despite their usual diet of smaller fish, they will not pass on the opportunity to feed on a whale carcass.
Whales die for many reasons, such as natural causes, vessel strikes, and being entangled in nets. Their huge bodies offer a large meal for not only one, but multiple sharks.
The carcass of a whale is the single largest source of carrion in marine ecosystems, which is thought to constitute an important part of white shark foraging ecology.
It makes sense for sharks to eat whales when they come across them, why would they pass up on such a large, easy meal?
Can A Shark Kill A Whale?
Although shark attacks on whales are incredibly rare, they do happen. Sharks can and do kill whales that they suspect may be an easy meal.
Whales that are weak, young, or injured may become the prey of a hungry shark. But not all sharks are capable of killing whales.
Whilst great white sharks are known to feed on whale carcasses, they are now known to attack and kill living humpback whales.
This species of shark can be huge and have a set of razor-sharp teeth that can tear and rip through whale blubber easily.
Great white sharks have been seen attacking the flank of humpback whale calves, where the whale is most vulnerable and defenseless.
Sharks will also work together to bring down whales, making them more efficient and giving them a higher chance of success.
But the great white isn’t the only shark species to attack and kill whales. Groups of dusky sharks have also been known to kill whale calves.
How Do Sharks Hunt Whales?
Sharks are some of the most highly adapted predators on the planet. They have been around since long before the dinosaurs, so have mastered their ability to kill prey.
When sharks are hunting for larger prey such as whales, they will typically look for weaknesses before assessing whether it’s worth it.
Sharks are large animals that can expend a lot of energy during an attack, and they don’t want to waste that energy on an animal that they will likely never bring down.
This is why the blue whale has almost no natural predators because it is simply too large for predators to take on.
Sharks look for injured, sick, or young whales that they have the best chances of killing before making an attack.
Once the shark has located its prey, it scopes out the area and ensures that the chances of a kill are decent, before finally making the attack.
Depending on the type of shark, the attacks may be different. The great white shark for example will usually attack the flank of a whale where it is most vulnerable and wear the whale down gradually.
Can A Shark Eat A Whole Whale?
A fully grown great white shark will eat around 0.5 – 3% of its total body weight each hunt, but when given the opportunity to eat a whale it may eat more than this.
That said, even the largest shark is not able to consume a full whole carcass by itself. Other sharks and fish may come along for an easy meal.
A whale carcass is a holy grail for many animals in the ocean, so they will often come from far and wide to feast on this meal.
Even if a great white wanted the whale carcass all to itself, it would have trouble as other opportunistic feeders would try stealing some easy meat.
How Do Whales Defend Themselves?
Whales are not very well equipped to defend themselves from an attacking shark and largely rely on their sheer size to deter sharks from attacking.
Whales often travel in groups, as there is safety in numbers. They have also been known to use their tail to try to hit predators to deter them.
An accurate tail strike from a whale is certainly strong enough to make a shark think twice about continuing the attack.
With that said, sharks are intelligent enough to only attack whales that are vulnerable, they will not attack fully grown, healthy whales that could cause injury to themselves.
They identify weaknesses and prey on them, making their success during a hunt much more likely as the whale is already weak.
Can sharks eat whales? Yes, absolutely.
Great white sharks are some of the most feared predators on the planet, and as of recently, it has been shown that they will actively hunt, kill and eat whales.
Sharks are apex predators that are well equipped to take anything on in the ocean, even the largest animals on the planet.
However, it is worth noting that not all species of sharks kill whales. It’s typically only the largest of sharks that prey on the weakest and vulnerable whales.
Out of the 500+ species of shark, there is only a handful that is capable of taking on a whale.
Hopefully, this post has been helpful and you’ve learned something new today about sharks hunting whales.
Thanks for taking the time to read this post and feel free to stick around to learn more about sharks and other marine life.
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Hi, I’m George – the founder of MarinePatch. I created this blog as marine wildlife has been my passion for many years and I’ve spent decades learning and dedicating myself to documenting all I can about the topic.