New research into the diet of great white sharks has revealed that their stomachs contains a wide variety of species that live on the seafloor, implying these movie villains spend more time foraging along the seafloor than anyone realized. That said, we'd still recommend you avoid skinny dipping at night on beaches commonly frequented by sharks.
The study, published today in the journal Frontiers in Marine Science, is the first-ever detailed research project looking at the stomach contents of whites sharks (Carcharodon carcharias). They examined the content of 40 juvenile sharks caught in the NSW Shark Meshing Program and compared their results with data gathered on the same species across the globe to get an idea of their diet.
The findings revealed that the sharks’ stomachs contained a variety of species that live on the seafloor buried in the sand, demonstrating the sharks must forage for food along the sea bed.
"The stereotype of a shark’s dorsal fin above the surface as it hunts is probably not a very accurate picture,” said lead author Richard Grainger, a PhD candidate at the Charles Perkins Centre and School of Life and Environmental Sciences at the University of Sydney, in a statement.
“Understanding the nutritional goals of these cryptic predators and how these relate to migration patterns will give insights into what drives human-shark conflict and how we can best protect this species,” added Dr Gabriel Machovsky-Capuska, an adjunct Senior Research Fellow at the Charles Perkins Centre and a co-author of the study.
The menu for our foraging sharks included eels, stargazers (quite possibly the ugliest fish in the ocean), sole, and rays including the eagle ray, though the researchers say this is an ambitious choice of snack as they can be hard to catch given how fast they are. Mid-water ocean swimming fish such as Australian salmon still made up the largest contribution to the shark’s stomach contents. The researchers also said that bigger prey such as other sharks and dolphins would likely form a bigger part of the animal’s diet but weren’t picked up by the study as they looked at juvenile sharks. Sharks usually only start to take on the chunkier prey when they reach over 2 meters (6.6 feet) in length themselves.
It’s hoped the study findings will provide valuable information to assist in the management of human and shark conflicts and inform conservation efforts to protect the species.