Scientists Surprised When They Examine Stomach Contents of Great White Sharks and Find Out What They Really Eat

Great White Shark Smile

Understanding how sharks feed is vital for managing human interactions.

The first-ever detailed study of the diets of great white sharks off the east Australian coast reveals this apex predator spends more time feeding close to the seabed than expected.

Richard Grainger Examining Shark Stomach Contents

Lead author Richard Grainger examining contents of a white shark’s stomach at the Sydney Institute of Marine Science. Credit: University of Sydney

“Within the sharks’ stomachs we found remains from a variety of fish species that typically live on the seafloor or buried in the sand. This indicates the sharks must spend a good portion of their time foraging just above the seabed,” said lead author Richard Grainger, a Ph.D. candidate at the Charles Perkins Centre and School of Life and Environmental Sciences at the University of Sydney.

“The stereotype of a shark’s dorsal fin above the surface as it hunts is probably not a very accurate picture,” he said.

The study, published on World Oceans Day in the journal Frontiers in Marine Science, is an important contribution towards understanding the sharks’ feeding and migratory habits.

Dr. Vic Peddemors a co-author from the NSW Department of Primary Industries (Fisheries), said: “We discovered that although mid-water fish, especially eastern Australian salmon, were the predominant prey for juvenile white sharks in NSW, stomach contents highlighted that these sharks also feed at or near the seabed.”

Mr. Grainger said: “This evidence matches data we have from tagging white sharks that shows them spending a lot of time many meters below the surface.”

Great White Shark East Australian Coast

GoPro image of a great white shark off east Australian coast at Evans Head, New South Wales. Credit: Richard Grainger/University of Sydney

The study examined the stomach contents of 40 juvenile white sharks (Carcharodon carcharias) caught in the NSW Shark Meshing Program. The scientists compared this with published data elsewhere in the world, mainly in South Africa, to establish a nutritional framework for the species.

“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,” said Dr. Gabriel Machovsky-Capuska, an adjunct Senior Research Fellow at the Charles Perkins Centre and a co-author of the study.

Mr. Grainger said: “White sharks have a varied diet. As well as east Australian salmon, we found evidence of other bony fish including eels, whiting, mullet, and wrasses. We found that rays were also an important dietary component, including small bottom-dwelling stingrays and electric rays.

“Eagle rays are also hunted, although this can be difficult for the sharks given how fast the rays can swim.”

The study found that based on abundance, the sharks’ diet relied mostly on:

  • Pelagic, or mid-water ocean swimming fish, such as Australian salmon: 32.2%
  • Bottom-dwelling fish, such as stargazers, sole or flathead: 17.4%
  • Reef fish, such as eastern blue gropers: 5.0%
  • Batoid fish, such as stingrays: 14.9%

The remainder was unidentified fish or less abundant prey. Mr. Grainger said that marine mammals, other sharks, and cephalopods (squid and cuttlefish) were eaten less frequently.

“The hunting of bigger prey, including other sharks and marine mammals such as dolphins, is not likely to happen until the sharks reach about 2.2 meters in length,” Mr. Grainger said.

Great White Shark Swimming East Australian Coast

Great white shark swimming off east Australian coast taken from a helicopter. Credit: Ryan Montgomery/Aerologistics Helicopters

The scientists also found that larger sharks tended to have a diet that was higher in fat, likely due to their high energy needs for migration.

“This fits with a lot of other research we’ve done showing that wild animals, including predators, select diets precisely balanced to meet their nutrient needs,” said co-author Professor David Raubenheimer, Chair of Nutritional Ecology in the School of Life and Environmental Sciences.

Tracking of white sharks shows that they migrate seasonally along Australia’s east coast from southern Queensland to northern Tasmania, and the range of movement increases with age.

Protecting this species and safely managing its interactions with humans is a priority for scientists and the NSW Department of Primary Industries.

“This study will give us a lot of information to assist in this management process,” Dr. Peddemors said.

Reference: “Diet Composition and Nutritional Niche Breadth Variability in Juvenile White Sharks (Carcharodon carcharias)” by Richard Grainger, Victor M. Peddemors, David Raubenheimer and Gabriel E. Machovsky-Capuska, 7 June 2020, Frontiers in Marine Science.
DOI: 10.3389/fmars.2020.00422

39 Comments on "Scientists Surprised When They Examine Stomach Contents of Great White Sharks and Find Out What They Really Eat"

  1. Miklos Legrady | June 10, 2020 at 9:48 pm | Reply

    This week a council of Grerat White Sharks announced their plans to capture 50 humans and examine the contents of their stomach to determine what they eat.

  2. Francis Coraggio | June 11, 2020 at 9:38 am | Reply

    You can save a lot of time and research money by just observing the mouth I’m different fish. A shark’s mouth and Flounder are on the bottom of the head for feeding from the floor where other others have a mouth aiming straight ahead pork catching swimming fish. Take a look at a lamprey whose mouth is on the top of his head. Can you guess why

  3. Bah-humbugees should respect anyone’s quest for knowledge!!! That is what’s lacking just about everywhere. Knowledge is powerful and sustaining! In some cases it enables you to make up your own mind, whatever the subject or topic. Reach a conclusion. Don’t fear the unknown. Don’t allow others to influence you for their gain. Know your subject matter. Listen. Follow your conscience.


    It is truly the great equalizer!!!! XOXO

  4. Arvind u a dumb*ss boi hehe

  5. I want too do that snorkeling ?. .

  6. William Carrell | June 11, 2020 at 7:19 pm | Reply

    You are all a Bunch of dumb asses makes me sick to even read it.

  7. I hope these animals don’t have to die just so you can find out what they eat. Is it really that important to know what they eat that they have to die. I’m guessing that they have to perish I hope they don’t

  8. The idiot libs on here complaining about researching animals while claiming they love animals. Hilarious.

  9. Rather it inducates that regular fish is out of stock, that’s why shark has gone to sea bottom.

  10. To know the eating habits of of sharks one does’t have to kill it. If you have the guts watch the sharks from close range when they are alive and swimming you dick heads.

  11. 40 young males? Sounds like Mass murder. How much did they suffer?

  12. In the actual paper (linked above) it says that no sharks were killed for the study, they were already dead. And the study wasn’t just about how the shark feeds, but also to try to figure out if the diet is just based on energy needs or if there is a nutrient driven diet choices.

  13. NOTICE*****
    Ethics Statement
    All stomachs were collected from deceased white sharks caught in the New South Wales Shark Meshing (Bather Protection) Program (NSW SMP), operated by the NSW Department of Primary Industries (NSW DPI), or from other incidental mortalities. No animals were killed specifically for this research. Collection of samples was conducted under NSW DPI permit # P01/0059(A)-4.0.

  14. NOTICE******
    Ethics Statement
    All stomachs were collected from deceased white sharks caught in the New South Wales Shark Meshing (Bather Protection) Program (NSW SMP), operated by the NSW Department of Primary Industries (NSW DPI), or from other incidental mortalities. No animals were killed specifically for this research. Collection of samples was conducted under NSW DPI permit # P01/0059(A)-4.0.

  15. What the …
    This is terrible. You mean to tell us you kill over 40 baby sharks just to see what they eat? Why does it matter what they eat? Leave them alone! The nsw meshing program is even worst. They are killing endangered species just so people can swim in the beach? Humans, go swim elsewhere, you have options.

  16. Joseph Farnsworth | June 12, 2020 at 11:27 am | Reply

    It stands to reason that when you see the images of sharks on the surface is for a better position in locating food sources. It’s like climbing a mountain you see a lot more than at its base the same in the ocean.

  17. Wow. I guess things aren’t really too different around the world. The “libs” worrying about the animals. The “basically” stop all research until a cure for Covid is found.Y’all could be drumpfsters from Texas! I’m GLAD I read through all the comments, and realized that that the sharks that were studied were already dead. Losing ANY of our species that DO SHARE this planet with us all is a BIGLY, UGE TRAGEDY, despite what the soon to be former emperor of of the US has to say. Research IS IMPORTANT. It certainly doesn’t all have to be directed to humans. Most of it DOES in some way AFFECT humans though. From an old retired RN in Texas that did apply research into ways to decrease pain in babies and their moms.

  18. Killing innocent whale just to know the stomach contents idiots u people are what u r going to do with that let your stomach be opened to see what stuff u eat to b so dumb*ss fools

  19. Barbara Schadel | June 12, 2020 at 2:06 pm | Reply

    Well, whose mesh is it killing all these sharks ? That can,t be an accident! Killing sharks to see what they eat is horrible!!!

  20. Great whites are already an endangered species yet 40 juveniles were unjustifiably slaughtered just to see what was in their bellies. WHAT THE HELL!! PATHETIC AND WRONG IN EVERY AND ANY KIND OF WAY. DAMN SHAME

  21. JoAnn Lockwood | June 12, 2020 at 4:02 pm | Reply

    OMG, fellow lovers of the life, CaLm dOwN long enough to realize that THE SHARKS EXAMINED for the research DIED OF NATURAL CAUSES.
    My goodness. I am going to review ALL THE RESPONSES on this page to see IF ANYONE who commented their contempt, did so with KINDNESS, CLASS or GRACE….

  22. Mr. Torgue Flexington | June 12, 2020 at 5:59 pm | Reply

    Just because a dead shark was studied doesn’t mean that the scientists killed it. In fact, that is explained in the study. Scientists study dead things all the time.

    There are also different kinds of scientists. For example, a marine biologist won’t necessarily have the experience, specific knowledge, or equipment to develop a COVID-19 cure. That’s why these scientists are continuing to study sharks instead of doing vaccine research.

    It is important not to blame people for things that aren’t true. Before launching into a tirade it’s important to understand the topic. It helps to read information thoroughly and to avoid jumping to illogical conclusions (such as sharks can only die if killed by a scientist).

    We can all misinterpret stuff that we read. It happens. 🙂

  23. Your trying to save the species? 50 gone in one day from the people claiming for protection for them? Makes absolutely no sense. And you dare call yourself scientist’s? More like a desimatiom of what could have been a thousand sharks in years to come. Wow! This is disgusting 😠.


  25. Last word, I find it very hard that 50 juvenile white sharks were gathered DEAD ALREADY. It just doesn’t make sense that 50 perfect size juvenile sharks could be found just lying dead ready for dissection. If they did great, but speculation and probability makes this nearly impossible. They show no dead sharks in the water and until we SEE PROOF of these ALREADY Dead carcasses speculation can still remain. The fact that perfect specimens of the same size dead is just hard to believe especially since they are so rare in the first place.

  26. Shark meshing is very cruel. The mesh nets are put out and the sharks entangle themselves and slowly suffocate and die. This isn’t a quick process and not very humane. Who decided killing 40 sharks ( and who knows how many other creatures the nets killed ) was a good idea just to see what they ate?? Yes, so you can save the species…..bullsh#t.

  27. Maybe because there aren’t as many options as there used to be. I bet in more plentiful times their diet would be less foraged and more hunted.

  28. Supposedly, the 40 sharks that we’re used in the collection we’re already dead right? Ok I’m hoping so but not likely. They just so happen to be all young male great whites? And the mesh line is very cruel…and so is the fishing for sharks to make shark fin soup

  29. Do any of these people remind you when society prevented people from studying dead humans because it violated religious beliefs?

  30. Geez the comment section here is 50% imbeciles nust posting comments the other 50% are imbeciles that are spreading hate.

  31. So, am I getting this correctly? They killed 40 young great whites to do this study?
    Am I the only one who finds this shocking?

  32. Sorry to disappoint some of you I am not a lib and this is appalling. 40 young male great whites killed find out what they eat. Despite scientific jargon they offered as a reason for this, in this day and age with tracking devices cameras and all sorts of sonar equipment do not tell me there wasn’t another way they could find out what these animals eat rather than killing 40 male great white sharks. This is unconscionable. And their explanation about how they happen to have 40. Great whites doesn’t ease my mind at all.

  33. Paul Sinkovitz | July 21, 2020 at 3:38 pm | Reply

    Lots of people that found the subject matter of interest spoke thier minds. Comments tell me alot about the education that has manifested our society.

  34. Paul Sinkovitz | July 21, 2020 at 6:18 pm | Reply

    The is no cure for “STUPID”

  35. A lot of the commenters here have shown that they either have poor reading comprehension, or they didn’t bother to actually read the summary of the research. Unfortunately, these people also vote (perhaps) and have children. It is a sad commentary on the state of rationality in the world. These appear to be the same kind of people who rush to judgement and ‘protest’ in the streets at night (actually, destroying property is rioting) before all the facts are available.

  36. Capt deathshark | October 7, 2020 at 3:02 am | Reply

    Kill them all

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