Sharks are notorious for being exceptional predators, so much so that they can tackle pretty much anything that lives in the ocean.
But what about the largest animals on earth? Do sharks attack whales?
Sharks will typically avoid attacking whales because of their size. One accurate tail slap from a whale could inflict serious injury to a shark. However, more recently some species of shark have been known to attack and kill whales.
Let’s take a closer look…
Do Sharks Actually Attack Whales?
Sharks attacking whales is incredibly rare. This is largely because of the whale’s size and the amount of risk it involves for a shark to try to bring down such a large animal.
Whales are incredibly powerful, and if swimming in pods as many species do, the shark risks getting itself seriously hurt by attacking a whale.
It makes more sense for sharks to attack smaller mammals such as seals, or even large fish than to try to bring down such a large animal and expend all of that energy.
That said, there are some cases where sharks have attacked and successfully killed some whales, despite it being ultra-rare.
Which Kind Of Sharks Attack Whales?
Sharks that bring down whales have to be at the top of their game. They need to be large, powerful sharks that are confident in their ability to tackle a whale.
The Great White Shark is one species that has been known to attack humpback whale calves and successfully kill them.
This species of shark is known to be one of the top apex predators in the ocean, and given the right circumstances, they are capable of taking on a small whale.
Great White Sharks have been known to feed on whale carcasses for many years, but in 2020, a white shark was filmed killing a humpback whale for the first time.
You can check out the drone footage below.
The information we currently know about whale and shark interactions is very limited, but this video provides a wealth of information.
The observations we currently have about these interactions are mostly secondary information, things such as stomach contents of sharks, bite marks on whales, etc, but it’s largely a mystery as to how these two animals interact.
Some interactions are well documented, such as how Orca work together to bring down large whales and use specific hunting techniques depending on their prey.
However, shark and whale interactions are much less documented, largely due to their size and living environments.
What we do know is that it’s widely accepted that large sharks regularly consume whale carcasses, so we know that whales are on the shark’s menu.
What is interesting about this attack is that the sharks knew where to bite the whale in order to be most effective, in the flank where it is most vulnerable.
The two white shark bites were few in numbers and were in an unconventional manner.
The sharks did not tear off any piece of the whale as they usually would, and they only actually bit the whale four times in total before the whale sank.
They essentially attacked the whale until it suffered severe blood loss and drowned, using its own size against it, unlike the savage attacks we see on other prey such as seals.
Why Do Sharks Attack Whales?
Whilst it’s incredibly unlikely for a shark to attack any species of whale, as the video shows above it does still happen.
Sharks are opportunistic feeders that are surprisingly intelligent, they take advantage of situations where they believe they can get an easy meal.
If a shark spots an injured, entangled, or young whale that is split from its mother, this makes for an opportunity that the shark could take advantage of.
The footage above, although not on camera is actually two white sharks attacking the humpback whale. This particular whale is also entangled in a net and appears to be unable to dive.
The whale is also isolated from its pod, making everything perfectly aligned for the sharks to attack this whale and have a good chance of getting the kill.
The shark must also be in fighting-fit shape with no injuries, and be large enough so that it has a chance of even bringing a whale down.
When Will Sharks Attack Whales?
As mentioned earlier, sharks are opportunistic feeders that are out to take whatever they can get. They mostly scavenge and use their heightened senses to detect injured prey.
If they detect a whale in distress that is injured or entangled, this is the perfect opportunity for a large white shark to potentially have a good meal.
Sharks may also attack whales if they outnumber the whale, if there are multiple sharks in the area and believe they have spotted an opportunity, then this is also another good time to strike.
However, despite all of the above, it’s still largely a mystery as we don’t have enough data to conclude exactly when and why sharks will attack whales, and at present, it’s largely speculation.
So, do sharks attack whales? Yes, although it’s incredibly rare as far as we know.
Whales are gigantic animals that are incredibly difficult for most sharks to attack and bring down, therefore it’s not worth the shark’s time to even try it, so often they don’t.
In rare circumstances, where large, healthy white sharks come across an injured, entangled, or young whales that could be looked at as easy prey, they will take the opportunity.
The truth is we don’t have a lot of information on these types of encounters because very little is known on how sharks interact with whales.
Only time will tell as we gather more data and understand more about these types of interactions.
Hopefully, this post has been insightful into understanding why sharks attack whales and the circumstances around it.
Thanks for taking the time to read this post and I hope you have learned something new today.
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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.