How Sharks Hunt: Exploring The Ocean Predator’s Strategies

Leave a comment / / Updated on: 24th October 2023

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Large white shark hunting for its prey | Nautilus Creative via iStock

Sharks rule the water, and today they are amongst the most dominant animals in the sea. 

There are more than 500 species of sharks, and several of them have evolved to become super dominant, and some of the deadliest predators to ever exist. 

Most sharks are carnivores, and their senses, teeth, and behavior are all adapted to increase their chance of having a successful hunt.

Down to the scales that cover the shark’s body, these predatory fish are designed to be fast, strong, and deadly.

Species like the great white shark are not only equipped with a dangerous arsenal, but have a very aggressive nature, and attack humans more than any other animal in the sea. 

Understanding the strategies that sharks use to hunt will not only amaze you, but is important information used by those who frequent the ocean to decrease their chance in becoming the target of an aggressive shark. 

This article will take a look at how sharks hunt, and examine some of their features, and behavior that make them such successful predators. 

Appearing around 450 million years ago, sharks have evolved to be at the top of their food chain. 

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The Hunter’s Anatomy

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Sharks are known to be the apex predators in the ocean | MediaProduction via iStock

Sharks have evolved in the water to hunt a variety of life and, you can find species of varying sizes, and capabilities. 

The majority of sharks are carnivores, but depending on the type of food they eat their bodies may have unique adaptations to help them catch their prey.

The largest of sharks are filter feeders, which have enormous mouths that comb the water like a fisherman’s net to feed on plankton.

The largest predatory shark is the great white, and these sharks are more dangerous since they are designed to be the ultimate hunter. 

Carnivore sharks are equipped with teeth that are serrated.

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Fear me!!! | Peter_Nile via iStock

Their teeth are long, and sharp, and used for gripping, and slicing. 

Unlike other fish, sharks have bodies that are made from cartilage, which is less dense than bone, and allows them to move quicker in the water. 

Even the scales of sharks assist them in capturing prey, since they are v-shaped, and flat, reducing the drag, and turbulence when swimming. 

The eyesight of sharks vary depending on the species, with some having better eyesights than humans in the water, while others may have more poor vision.

In the water hearing, and smell are the most important tools in the sharks arsenal, and their keen sense helps them track, and zone in on prey. 

With such an amazing sense of smell, and hearing, sharks can detect potential prey from hundreds of yards away. 

The Art of Ambush

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Underwater great white shark sneaking a female swimmer | gremlin via iStock

Ambushing prey is a common tactic utilized by sharks. 

One of the most successful ambush predators in the waters is the great white shark, and these sharks are considered one of the largest macropredatory fish.

Great white sharks are able to swim swiftly up to 25 kilometers per hour (16 mph.), and swim up to depths of 1,200 meters (3,900 ft).

This predator is enormous, only rivaled by the largest of ocean life like killer whales, and giant squid.

By using all of their adept senses like excellent hearing, sight, and electromagnetism, coupled with their powerful bodies, great whites have very high success rates on their attacks. 

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A school of fish roaming around the sea, a favorite prey of sharks | Johan Holmdahl via iStock

Fish, rays, and marine mammals are the most common prey for great white sharks. 

When ambushing seals the great white’s success rate is of around 48%, and daily they can eat up to 68 kgs. (150 lbs.).

You can find countless remarkable videos of how the great whites jump out of  water to ambush unsuspecting animals, some even catching birds from the sky.

The colors of sharks allow them to better hide in their environment, with their dark top, and light bellies helping them blend into the sky and sand when swimming. 

Using the force from their massive size and the several sharp knives in their mouth, an ambush from a shark has been the death of many animals  in the ocean, including humans. 

The Stealthy Stalkers

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A shark sneaking around surfers | Philip Thurston via iStock

In order to increase their chances of catching prey, species like the tiger shark stalk their prey like a cat before going on the attack.

The name tiger shark is fitting for the predatory beast that roams in the Gulf of Mexico, South America, and North America beaches. 

Their range has even stretched into oceans near the Carribeans, Africa, India, and Australia, with tiger sharks often seen as one of the most dangerous sharks to humans. 

Tiger sharks can grow up to 5.4 meters (18 ft), and weigh more than 900 kgs. (2,000 lbs). 

 Instead of relying on a powerful barrage, tiger sharks slowly stalk their prey before going in. 

The stripes and coloring of tiger sharks help them remain unseen, and once their prey is spotted they will circle, and slowly approach them until it is too late. 

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Tiger shark looming under the ocean waters | Albert kok via Wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0

The slow and secretive approach of hunting helps the tiger shark catch and feed on prey like fish, sea turtles, and even other sharks. 

Patience is a virtue, and up until the powerful strike the tiger sharks approach is calm and tactical.

Even if their stalking attack is not successful tiger sharks are not ferociously hungry, and only eat around 2 to 6 kgs (4 to 13 lbs a week).

When compared with other sharks around the world tiger sharks are considered one of the most dangerous to humans, because of their size, sharp teeth, and powerful jaws that help them take down their prey.

Tiger shark attacks on humans have occurred, but we are not a part of these sharks’ diet, so they typically attack us if we are mistaken for prey. 

Originally it was believed tiger sharks are aggressive, and territorial, but they mainly stalk and hunt to feed. 

The Group Dynamics

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Silhouettes of sharks underwater in ocean against bright ligh | vchal via iStock

One shark is already a force to be reckoned with on its own, but it is not uncommon for sharks to group together, and feed in large numbers.

In the right conditions sharks are more likely to hunt together, and solitary sharks may even work together to increase the chance of taking out prey.

Animals that hunt together are known to have a higher intelligence since it takes good cooperation. 

Unlike other animals that hunt in packs, sharks do not believe in sharing, and when hunting together they only feed themselves. 

Sharks may congregate together during the breeding season, or may come together in areas that have lots of food. 

Several species of sharks may hunt with each other, and when working together their numbers easily allow them to overwhelm prey.

Summer and fall is the most common time sharks group together, since this is usually where they mate. 

A frenzy may occur in situations where there is a school of fish, or family of seals that will allow sharks to aggressively swarm like angry bees.

The majority of sharks are solitary creatures, but group behavior is common.

The Ocean’s Top Predators

The Ocean’s Top Predators | 35007 via iStock

Sharks are definitely one of the top predators in the ocean, but they live with some other animals, who are also the deadliest creatures in the world.

The majority of all life on earth is found in the ocean, and these creatures can range from being microscopic, to as large as a house.

Ecosystems rely on all animals to keep a balance, but sharks play a more active, predatory role than other animals. 

Despite there being countless predators that are sharks, there are a few other animals that even the strongest of sharks have to look out for.

Some of the other top predators in the ocean include:

  • KIller whales
  • Leopard seals
  • Giant squids
  • Polar bears
  • Sperm whales
  • Saltwater crocodiles

In the waters sharks large mouths, teeth, and speed make them able to take bites out of other prey, but squids are able to wrap them up. 

Whales that are predatory are some of the most dominant animals in the ocean, and not only are extremely large, but are just as bloodthirsty as sharks themselves. 

Oceans are often some of the deadliest  places in the world, with even smaller life like jellyfish being a potential threat to sharks. 

After being born sharks are ready to hunt, and care for themselves. 

The independent nature of sharks makes them vulnerable to larger predators like leopard seals, or even giant fish, since their mothers do not watch them.

Sharks  like the pygmy shark, or lantern shark are extremely small when compared with their relatives, and are also at greater risk of being overpowered by other animals. 

Most sharks are equipped  to fend for themselves, but their lives are filled with dangerous encounters, with other sharks, and larger predators. 

The Chase and Capture

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I got ‘ya!!! | Alessandro De Maddalena via iStock

Masters of the sea, it may not surprise you to learn that some sharks rely on their speed in the water to chase, and capture prey. 

The fastest shark in the water, the shortfin mako is capable of reaching a top speed up to 74 kilometers per hour (45 mph).

Shortfin mako sharks reach up to 3.8 meters (12 ft.), and weigh around 45 kgs. (1,200 lbs).

Speed and strength are what make makos deadly predators, and they lunge, and tear off the fins of the animals they eat before devouring them. 

Some of the fastest fish alive such as tuna are common prey that the mako feeds on, but they also may feed on other sharks, and even birds.

Using their speed these sharks are capable of leaping nearly 6 meters (20 ft) out of the water, and can move 30 meters (100 feet) in just two seconds from a stopped position. 

There are several other sharks that rely on speed, including these speedsters:

  • Tiger Sharks
  • Bull Sharks
  • Thresher Sharks
  • Great White Sharks
  • Salmon Shark
  • Nurse Shark

Once speedy sharks get close enough to catch their meal, many of them lunge at their prey to deal the final blow. 

The pectoral fins, and aerodynamic build allows sharks to speed through the water like a boat, and  catch even the fastest sea life like swordfish.

The Bottom-Dwelling Predators

Bottom-dwelling predators | Images via iStock

Open waters are not the only region in the water sharks rule, but they also are dominant predators on the seafloor.

Nursery sharks are an example of sharks that hunt primarily on the bottom of the sea.

Crabs, lobsters, snails, squids, and other bottom dwelling fish are what nursery sharks eat.

Caves and the crevices within rocks are where species like the nursery shark dwell, and the night time is when they do their hunting. 

Whiskers sit on the face of this shark, and this adaptation is similar to the catfish barbells.

The nursery shark, and other bottom dwelling sharks’ whiskers are used to find food, and detect potential nearby prey. 

Mouths of the nursery shark are filled with several small teeth, which are used for crushing hard-shelled animals, and eating their prey.

With many sharks having limited eyesight electromagnetism is used by several species to detect the electric signals given off by other ocean life.

Electromagnetism, smell, and sight all used together can detect hidden animals under the sand, and weed prey out of the large sea.

The Versatile Hunters

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Shark types | Image via Styles At Life

You may think fish is the only food that sharks eat, but with more than 500 shark species around the world you can find some with unique traits made to fit their different diet.

Mega mouth sharks are very slow, but use their filter to feed on small plankton such as krill, and are not aggressive. 

The more aggressive sharks may sometimes mistake things like trash, humans, or other odd objects as prey, which is why there have been some odd items found in sharks stomachs. 

In  Australia one shark was found with a porcupine in its stomach, and there are several shark species that are not picky, and feed opportunistically. 

One of the oddest sharks is the terrifying cookie cutter shark, which has a round mouth with teeth to cut  meat from the bodies of animals, working  like a cookie cutter, and suctioning to their prey. 

The goblin shark is another funny looking fish with a goblin-like mouth, and extends its mouth out very fast to grab small prey.

At the top of their ecosystems, sharks are extremely diverse, and use a variety of tactics to hunt.

Conclusion

In the waters sharks are untouched kings in taking down prey, and these creatures use countless strategies to feed on other types of aquatic life. 

Recognizing the behavior of sharks is useful, since it can save lives.

Animals can be unpredictable, but studying how they think will also allow humans to take the right steps in preserving endangered  species. 

Blood thirsty, and intense hunger are what most people think of when imaging a shark. 

Evolution has created predators with traits that may seem like super powers, but sharks are just one deadly animal you can find in the ocean.

The sea is filled with shark teeth since millions of sharks grow, and drop their teeth throughout their life. 

If you visit the ocean you may just find a shark tooth washed in the ocean sand, and also get a glimpse of the peaceful seaside where these monsters live. 

It is no surprise that sharks are feared by the majority of humans, and with a never satisfied appetite they have gained evolutionary traits to make them top predators on earth.

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