Observations done off the coast of South Africa have revealed that Great White Sharks are not primarily solitary predators as once thought. Studies done over a 10 year period have shown that the Great White Shark scavenges in groups. Rarely venturing too close to the coast, these apex hunters have now been found to cruise closer for a fatty treat.
The source of this seemingly social gathering was the bodies of dead whales. The sharks appear within 24 hours of the body floating to the surface of the water and the feast begins. The Great Whites feed on the blubber of these deceased giants and are quite picky about what area the blubber needs to come from. It was observed that they start at the fluke and work their way through the carcass, biting off pieces, swallowing and sometimes regurgitating it and biting off a different piece.
Not surprisingly, a definite pecking order was established with bigger sharks getting first pick. Smaller sharks stuck to the areas with less blubber or even stayed away just feeding on the pieces of blubber that floated away from the feeding frenzy. Apparently the sharks weren’t much bothered with each other, even as one was accidently bitten on the head and had two teeth remaining in its noggin.
These dinner parties also result in the Great White Sharks not feeding on their normal choice of fur seals, leaving them in peace for a short while. This in turn leaves them to forage more aggressively on their favourite prey, like sea urchins.
In some cases it was observed that the Sharks kept eating until they were so full that they could not open their jaws. But they would still not give up, and just kept bumping their heads against the floating body. Once they are sated though, the carcass will drift to the bottom of the ocean to be nibbled on by bottom feeders and opportunistic scavengers on the ocean floor.
Great White Sharks remain to be one of the marine animals we still know very little of. We learn new things about their behavioural habits and feeding patterns almost daily. And whether they are hunting by themselves or scavenging in groups, they continue to play a very important role in the marine ecosystems of the world.