What do Sharks Eat? Do They Eat People & Dead Bodies?

Sharks are known to eat dead fishes in the sea, but there are a lot of misconceptions about the process. Here’s what you need to know:

The first thing people often think is that sharks will eat any animal carcass they come across. This isn’t true.


Sharks usually eat small fat and squid. Sharks generally don’t eat people because we’re too big for them. While sharks eat dead bodies, they prefer live prey.

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Marine scavengers like whale sharks only consume small animals or fish that have died naturally. Sharks can be selective in their diet, and many species prefer fresh meat over anything else. 

They also typically go for prey with high-fat content. For example, tiger sharks feed on sea turtles because they contain lots of fatty tissue.

It’s easily converted into energy for the shark. There has been more than one case where a shark has refused to eat dead seals and ignored it in favor of hunting live prey.

Sharks Are Selective About What To Eat:

So what about dead bodies? First, we need to consider how long the body has been exposed before sharks find it.

An uneaten corpse will often land on the seafloor and get covered by sediments. The presence of scavengers like crabs and octopuses further complicates things since they compete with sharks for food sources. 

Sharks use electro-sensitive cells called ampullae of Lorenzini that allow them to detect weak electrical currents. This unique trait tells us several things about shark feeding behavior.

Sharks need to be close enough to sense these electrical impulses. This means dead bodies floating at sea level would probably never attract them unless they had been torn into smaller pieces. 

Usually, sharks will prioritize eating:

  • Smaller fish
  • Squid
  • Octopus
  • Crustaceans
  • Seabirds
  • Sea turtles

Once a shark finds its prey, it needs to decide on whether to eat or not based on smell and appearance. If the shark feels like a dead fish isn’t worth its time, it will leave without wasting more energy.

On the other hand, maybe the shark decides something looks like a tasty meal. It will go into attack mode

Once it bites, things can take several different turns depending on the species of shark involved. For example, white sharks (known for their impressive size and fearsome reputation) normally bite hard enough to tear off a chunk of flesh.

Other species like tiger sharks prefer softer meals, so they use their pointy jaws to shred through soft tissues.

Why Sharks Prefer Live Prey Over Dead Ones:

Sharks prefer live prey because it’s easier for them to chew and digest. A dead animal has already begun to decompose, and its tissue is no longer as easy to chew. The smell of decomposition also attracts other scavengers that compete with the shark for food.

Sharks can huntSharks will be hunted by
Small fishLarger sharks
Squid and OctopusKiller whales
SealsHumpback whales
Marine mammalsHumans

So how do we know all of this? Scientists have put tracking tags on different species to study their behavior. Sometimes they will release a dead fish with the tag and observe how long it takes for sharks to find it.

This research is done in places where sharks have been heavily fished. Scientists have also spent more time studying deep-sea scavengers since they have been so elusive in recent years.

Although sharks occasionally feed on dead carcasses, they prefer to hunt live prey. This behavior has also been observed in other marine animals like penguins.

They look for meat that is fresh and easy to break into chunks. Otherwise, they will pass up a meal even if it’s large enough to eat.

They also need to make sure they don’t take in rotten food since this will poison them. The smell of decomposition also attracts other scavengers like sea turtles and hagfish. Dead animals are often torn apart by marine organisms that compete for resources.

Although it’s not the most conventional source of nutrition, sharks have been bite carcasses found in shallow waters.

In some cases, dead animals that wash up on the shore are reduced to a pile of bones when they get eaten. Some sharks may rely on dead fish if they’re dying from natural causes, and there aren’t other sources to feed on.

Sharks Are Wired Differently:

Although they are often called “fish,” sharks are cartilaginous. This means that their skeletons are made out of cartilage instead of bone. Fish have scales, but shark skin is covered in mucus designed to prevent parasites.

In turn, they have a very smooth and oily texture. It prevents them from drying out even if they stay exposed to sunlight at the surface. This also explains why their meat feels slightly slimy.

A fish’s skeleton is made up of bone. But a shark’s skeleton is made up of cartilage. This makes it much lighter and more flexible.

Fish SkeletonsShark Cartilage
Hardened bonesFlexible cartilage
Contains calciumDoes not contain calcium
Protects internal organsStructural support of the body

Some species have teeth on their tongues; these species can use their tongue like a “hook.” Digging into prey and dragging it to the back of their throats so they can eventually swallow it.

Most species will take water in through the mouth and push it out through gills that line the sides of their bodies. There are others, such as Great Whites and Bull Sharks. They pump water into their mouths over these gills using special muscles around their jaws and throats.

Some species can even force air out through tiny holes called “spiracles” on the sides of their heads. This system allows sharks to control how much oxygen they take in. This is important because some species don’t have swim bladders that help them maintain buoyancy.

Sharks don’t sleep very deeply because they’ll drown if they sink too much while resting. Some sharks can lie on the seabed with only their mouths and gills exposed. They can even pump water over their gills while they rest.

Their hunting capability largely depends on an internal organ called “lateral line.” This helps them sense the movements of other animals around them and hunt prey in complete darkness. Sharks also have an amazing sense of smell, which allows them to detect tiny amounts of blood in the water.

jumping shark

Shark Attacks On Humans Are Rare:

Even though sharks are the hungry monsters of the sea,  they don’t threaten humans. People are less likely to encounter sharks than other marine animals like jellyfish. Sharks are highly sensitive to disturbances in the water, so they steer clear of swimmers. Even when sharks attack humans, it’s usually because they misidentify them as prey. 

This is the reason why sharks are more likely to attack their victims in shallow waters instead of deep ones. The main motivations behind these attacks are curiosity and mistaken identity.

Sharks can mistake humans for other animals like seals when they appear around coral reefs or rocky areas. There has been a documented jump in the number of unprovoked shark attacks on humans. However, the chances of getting injured or killed by a shark remain incredibly slim. 

It’s fair to say that sharks are one of the most misunderstood animals on Earth. Many people don’t know this, but sharks are prey for orcas and larger sharks. Sharks are usually blamed for attacks on humans even though they’re not the only ocean predator out there.

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