Great white sharks are at the top of the oceanic food chain. As an apex predator, the diet of the great white is quite varied. This predator is not the ruthless man-eating machine that we were led to believe it is. While it remains one of the most dangerous sharks to man, it is largely because the hunting instincts that this magnificent beast developed over hundreds of years causes several attacks on humans. However, the great white shark is not known to feast on human flesh, making it a case of mistaken identity.
The great white has proven to be an intelligent hunter that can adapt to changes in its environment. Researchers have studied various aspects of the great white’s existence, including its eating habits. The eating habits of the white shark would include its diet, feeding patterns and means of consumption.
The means of consumption would be the most interesting aspect of a shark’s eating habit. Great whites possess approximately 3000 teeth. The triangular, serrated teeth are located in rows. The first two rows are used to procure and devour prey while the other rows are merely replacements. The great white possesses a flexible jaw that actually extends before it bites, giving its jaws reach and facilitating the shredding of prey’s flesh. It does not possess the ability to chew, so it has to rip its prey into smaller chunks for consumption. This is usually done by clamping the prey and violently twisting its body and shaking its head.
As a top predator, the great white’s diet contains a variety of oceanic creatures. However, the great white actually prefers high-fat aquatic mammals such as seals and sea lions. Baby seals are a favourite of great whites because they are easy to catch and have a high body fat percentage. Adult seals are difficult to catch because they are fast swimmers, manoeuvrable and clever. Great white sharks have been known to consume dolphins, sea turtles, other sharks, stingrays and even dead whales. That they consume dead flesh is interesting, since it also positions our prime hunter as an opportunistic scavenger.
White shark pups feed on bottom fish for the early part of their lives. Then they graduate to large fish with high oil content, such as tuna and mackerel. When they are large enough, they begin to feed on fatty aquatic mammals. Although white sharks have attacked humans in the past, this is often theorised as a case of mistaken identity or the shark’s curiosity. Researchers claim that sharks do not consume humans since our flesh is more muscular than fatty. This is certainly one more reason to be lean and mean. In a few cases, great whites have eaten indigestible objects, this is thought to be either accidental or out of curiosity.
Even though sharks generally hunt alone, there are times when there are several sharks around a large kill. This usually obtains when the prey is large, like an adult seal or dead whale. When white sharks gather around a kill, there is a pecking order that determines who gets the next bite. This is heavily based on size and aggression. Great whites generally avoid confrontations with each other in such situations, relying on display and rituals typically.
White sharks in certain areas have feeding times based on their ability to be camouflaged due to inadequate light. Shark attacks on prey usually take place when they are harder to detect. Early morning attacks are frequent. The strategy for procuring food is based on the size of the prey. Sharks generally do not like to expend too much energy in hunting. In some cases, one bite is sufficient to cripple a prey and allow it to bleed to death. If the prey is small, it may be ambushed from below and administered a death bite at the middle.
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