Predator Become Prey: Do Whales Eat Sharks?

do whales eat sharks

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Whales are some of the largest animals to ever roam the earth, with some species being 100 feet in length and weighing a whopping 150,000 kg.

Animals of this size are not to be messed with, one flick of their tail could kill any aquatic animal with a single swoop.

But despite their enormous size, many of the largest whales feed on tiny prey such as krill, squid, plankton, and small fish.

This brings up an interesting question that many people find themselves wondering when it comes to these formidable creatures. Do whales eat sharks?

That’s why in this post, we’re going to discuss everything you need to know about the diet of some of the largest animals on earth, and if they really snack on sharks.

Let’s get into it…

Do Whales Eat Sharks?

Yes, killer whales (although technically dolphins) actively hunt and kill sharks for their fatty livers which provide a nutrient-dense meal.

Sharks are fast, agile, and armed with a set of teeth that can cut through flesh like butter so they are not an easy target, especially big sharks.

In fact, the only cetacean known to eat sharks is killer whales, which are apex predators that can kill just about anything with a pulse.

do whales eat sharks
Image by Giuseppe Milo

These super-intelligent predators work as a pack to take down animals much larger than themselves, including many whale species.

Sharks are light work for a pod of hunting orcas, which has earned them the nickname “wolves of the sea”, and for good reason!

Orcas work together as a pod to take down large sharks, often ramming into the shark’s soft underbelly to paralyze it before ripping it to shreds and leaving behind everything apart from its liver.

Do Any Other Whales Eat Sharks?

Whales are split into two groups, baleen whales and toothed whales, both having very different diets and behaviors.

Baleen whales are the larger of the two groups, these include humpback whales and blue whales which feed using the baleen plates that hang from their upper jaws.

They feed by gobbling up large quantities of small prey such as krill, squid, and plankton and then sieving the water out and trapping the prey in their baleen plates.

This is because they have small throats and are unable to eat much else, certainly not a shark.

Baleen whales don’t have teeth that they could use to kill the shark in the first place, and then they wouldn’t be able to swallow it either.

Whereas toothed whales are species such as sperm whales and orcas that are equipped with teeth that they use to catch and kill larger prey.

But even these whales are not designed to consume predators such as sharks, which is why it’s only orcas that do.

Not only would it be hard for other toothed whales to attack and consume a shark, but they also run the risk of quickly becoming the prey in that situation.

It’s not wise to try and take on an animal similar in size that is armed with large razor-sharp teeth.

Sperm whales much prefer to minimize risk (somewhat) and hunt giant squid in the depths of the ocean, a much easier prey than a large shark.

Hunting sharks is not a good idea for many whales as they run the risk of being seriously injured or even killed.

But there have been some rare occurrences where shark remains have been found in the stomach contents of some whales (other than killer whales).

One study that examined the stomach contents of sperm whales found that in a handful of these whales, shark parts were found in their stomachs.

It’s an interesting find and whether the sperm whale killed the shark itself or simply ate a body part that it found remains to be seen.

But as far as we know, sperm whales hunt squid and not sharks, so it’s likely that it gobbled up a body part of a dead shark.

Overall, the likelihood of finding shark remains in any other cetacean other than an orca is incredibly low, so it’s safe to say that most whales don’t hunt sharks.

Are Sharks Afraid Of Whales?

Sharks are not necessarily afraid of whales, but they may avoid them if they perceive them as a potential threat.

Whilst whales don’t typically hunt sharks, they could very easily kill one with a simple tail flick, so sharks may keep their distance.

Sharks are known to be afraid of orcas though, as pods of orcas will actively hunt and kill sharks of many different species.

Even the largest shark species have been observed leaving their regular territory when orcas make their way through.

Sharks seem to have a natural avoidance toward orcas because of this, but this is likely to depend on the species of shark and the particular orca pod it encounters.

Not all orcas hunt sharks, but it’s clear that when orcas come to town the sharks move out.

But it’s worth noting that sharks are also top marine predators that are typically not afraid of any marine creatures.

They are capable of protecting themselves and are fierce opponents even for orcas.

Do Whales Eat Great White Sharks?

Whales do not generally eat great white sharks, but there have been a few reported cases of orca pods killing and eating great white sharks for their liver.

But it must be stated that orcas are technically part of the dolphin family, and therefore should not be classed as whales.

Nevertheless, killer whales are known to kill many species of shark, including great white’s to feed on their calorie-dense liver.

do whales eat sharks
Image by Shawn McCready

A great white shark’s liver can contain up to 400 liters of oil and contain 2 million kilocalories, so it’s basically a big, juicy, fatty meal for an orca.

These types of attacks are rare and only occur in areas where both species co-exist, such as in South Africa and California.

The vast majority of whale species do not prey on sharks at all, and it’s only orcas that are able to kill these predators.

Wrapping Up

To conclude, most whale species do not eat sharks, but occasionally killer whales (technically dolphins) have been known to feed on many shark species.

Pods of orca rule the seas with an iron fist and will feed on just about anything with a pulse, including great white sharks.

These apex predators have even been known to eat moose when there is little prey for them to feed on, so they’re not particularly fussy.

But sharks have a liver that is packed full of calories and nutrients, like a big juicy t-bone steak to us humans.

This is why killer whales in some areas of the world are being observed killing sharks, to eat their juicy livers.

That said, no other whale species eat sharks, it’s just too risky for them as they may end up injured or falling victim to the shark.

Thanks for taking the time to read this post and learn more about whales today.

Catch you in the next one!